It just figures that the day you dress up for work is the day you're going to get called to rescue a bewildered sea otter pup making its way toward the Homer Airport.
Recently, Associate Professor Debbie Boege-Tobin, Ph.D., a marine biologist who teaches at the UAA Kenai Peninsula College's Kachemak Bay Campus (KBC), was busy leading a chemistry lab when she was inundated with phone calls and messages about the wayward otter pup. As lead responder for the Homer branch of the Alaska SeaLife Center's (ASLC) Marine Mammal Stranding Network (MMSN), this wasn't her first call to assist with critters that were out of their element. After quickly finding a colleague to run the chemistry lab in her absence, she says with a laugh, "I ran out in my dress, tights and new boots. Not exactly rescue gear."
"[The otter pup] was screaming, which is a good thing," Boege-Tobin explains. They hoped those vocal abilities, so effective in rallying rescuers, might summon the pup's mother. With permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and ASLC, Boege-Tobin along with cooperating neighbors, MMSN volunteers and a KBC Semester by the Bay student were able to kennel the pup and monitor her at the water's edge beside Mud Bay while she continued to call. They hoped for an ideal outcome—a reunited pup and mother—since a young sea otter pup raised in captivity can never be returned to the wild; the pups require intensive attention from caregivers and are no longer good candidates for reintroduction once they reach maturity.
Rescued OtterBoege-Tobin speculated that the pup wandering down the road may have been separated from its mother in a recent storm. There was no Hollywood reunion to be had, though. When the mother no-showed, a KBC student and staff member drove the pup to Soldotna for a hand-off to ASLC Rescue & Rehab staffers from Seward while Boege-Tobin got back to work. The young pup will be tended to at the center's I.Sea.U critical care unit until USFWS determines her next chapter. ASLC reported on Oct. 28 that the pup is looking good and doing well, enjoying the addition of some clams into her diet of sea otter formula.
Read more and see more photos from the Semester by the Bay program, open to students from any college or university.
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