Oiled Sea Otter Capture Course

Prespill Planning

In waters under United States jurisdiction, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) under the Marine Mammal Protection Act has lead management responsibility for sea otters. In Alaska and Washington State, the capture of oiled sea otters must be conducted or supervised by personnel from the USFWS. In California, the Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) will supervise the capture of oiled sea otters with the USFWS retaining oversight responsibility; both will participate in sea otter captures.

To quickly and efficiently implement a capture operation, prespill planning should include: l) an agency-approved response plan, 2) formation of a task force to review and update response plan strategies, 3) trained capture personnel, 4) identification of capture boats and crews, and 5) assembly of equipment and supplies. Members of the task force should include resource trustees, marine mammal experts, and veterinarians from wildlife rehabilitation programs. The members should be able to meet on a regular basis.

A capture strategy should be prepared for the various geographical regions inhabited by sea otters. It should incorporate information on the seasonal abundance and distribution of sea otters, coastal geography, port and harbor facilities, and seasonal weather and sea conditions. To be most effective, a rescue program should be able to respond within six hours. This is only possible if personnel are trained and the capture boats are under contract before a spill occurs. The success of a rescue and rehabilitation program will depend on capturing oiled sea otters quickly and transporting them to a rehabilitation center, and/or moving uncontaminated sea otters to a protected, clean environment.