Otter rescued from Exxon Valdez oil spill dies

Claudine Zap
Claudine Zap
The Lookout

One of the last sea otters rescued from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill has died. Kenai was orphaned after her oil-covered mother died.

The baby otter had somehow managed to avoid the oil, and was taken to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, where she lived out the next 23 years. When she arrived, Ken Ramirez, the animal care vice president at Shedd, told CBS Chicago he had to step in for her mom, teaching her proper grooming techniques, which take up most of an otter's day.

Kenai must have thrived at Shedd. She lived a longer life than sea otters in the wild, which generally live 15-18 years. But Kenai was euthanized due to multiple organ failures as a result of her quite-old otter age. Kenai's death means that a female otter at  Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash., is the last surviving otter from the oil spill.

Rescuers found Kenai and her mother in 1989. Kenai's mother, covered in oil, died, but a biologist managed to keep Kenai alive in a hotel bathtub. She was eventually transferred to an intensive care nursery and then to Chicago.

One of the worst environmental disasters, the Exxon Valdez spilled upward of 11 million gallons of oil, covering 1,300 miles of coastline and 11,000 square miles of ocean, devastating a habitat for seabirds, seals, salmon and, of course, sea otters.