Oiled Sea Otter Rehabilitation Course

Chapter 5 – Introduction

The clinical disorders exhibited by oiled sea otters will depend on the type of oil encountered and the degree and duration of exposure. Unfortunately, much of this information is unavailable when otters are captured during an oil spill. The route of exposure and duration of contamination can only be inferred from the date of the spill, the rate of oil weathering, and the movement of the oil into otter habitats. To overcome this problem, Williams et al. in Chapter 4 suggest that oil spills be divided into Early and Late Phases. This division enables veterinarians to plan for the type of clinical problems most often encountered when the oil is concentrated and fresh, or after the oil has dispersed and weathered.

Depending on the rate of weathering, the detrimental effects of oil are greatest during the first two to three weeks or Early Phase of a spill (Neff, 1990). During this period, otters often arrive at the rehabilitation center completely covered with fresh oil and displaying the severest medical problems. These animals require immediate and often long-term care if they are to survive. In contrast, the period of treatment and recovery may be short for otters lightly contaminated with weathered oil during the Late Phase of a spill. Some Late Phase otters may even be healthy enough to bypass the rehabilitation process and be sent directly to a prerelease facility. It is important to remember that the primary objective of any clinical regimen will be the graduation of otters through the successive stages of rehabilitation for the purpose of release.

This chapter describes the etiology, clinical manifestations, and treatment of specific disorders that commonly occur in oiled sea otters. A summary of symptoms and recommended treatments is provided in Table 5.5 beginning on page 84. We divide the chapter into three sections: disorders that occur during the Early Phase of a spill, disorders common to both phases of an oil spill, and long-term treatments. Veterinary clinicians are also referred to Chapter 1 for a discussion of the pathology, toxicology, and clinical history of oiled sea otters during the Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) and to Chapter 4 for emergency treatment methods and assessment of oil exposure. Appendix 6 Download PDF lists the equipment required for treating oiled sea otters.