After 11 weeks of intensive care, our team of staff and volunteers is saddened by the passing of sea otter Whiffen who was rescued on a beach in Sooke, B.C. On May 10, the otter was undergoing an MRI under anesthetic to determine the cause of his ongoing medical issues when he began to have trouble breathing and soon passed away.

The scan was intended to discover why the sea otter was still not gaining weight, had progressive muscle loss, head tremors, weakness, and was not getting better. It was also to determine the best course of action and any humane options in Whiffen’s best interests.

Named for the spit of land on which he was found, Whiffen was in critical condition, displayed whole body seizures, was emaciated and hypoglycemic, with injuries to his hind flippers, when he was rescued by our team.

Unfortunately, some necessary signs of improvement never appeared. He did not gain full range of motion in his hind flippers, his neurologic signs continued, and he still needed help with grooming. Of greater concern were continuous high liver enzyme values and progressively increasing Toxoplasma gondii titres on repeated blood tests. Based on his clinical signs and lab tests he had a high index of suspicion for systemic toxoplasmosis.

Dr. Martin Haulena notes that toxoplasma, if that is what it ends up being, is an important disease from an ecological perspective. Caused by an infection by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, it’s commonly known as the “cat parasite disease” and is a major cause of mortality and a contributor to the slow rate of population recovery for southern sea otters in California. Earlier this year, researchers at UBC shared the parasite had been found in Arctic beluga whales for the first time, prompting new investigations to determine if climate change is contributing to the introduction of new diseases to the Arctic.

Although the hope for Whiffen — as it is for every patient of the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre — was recovery and release, the team’s experience with the sea otter will provide important learning and data to help with future cases. We’re proud of our team who made an excellent effort to use every available means to come up with an answer for Whiffen.

The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by Port Metro Vancouver and supported by Teekay Shipping, is a hospital for sick, injured or orphaned marine mammals. The Rescue Centre rescues stranded marine mammals and rehabilitates them for release back into their natural habitat. Donate to the Rescue Centre at

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10 Responses

  1. Kenneth Miller

    So sad to hear of Whiffen’s passing. I’m sure my girlfriend and I were some of the last people to see him healthy, a few days before he was rescued. We made a video of him grooming and being an otter, it was very surprising to see his condition change so quickly.

    • Vancouver Aquarium

      Thank you Kenneth for your kind words, Whiffen’s passing touched all of us. We will continue to learn from cases such as his so that our Marine Mammal Rescue Centre can continue their great work on other injured animals. You can visit the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre Facebook page or the website to receive updates on other animal rescues from this summer.

  2. Barbara Denz

    After the extraordinary success had with Walter, I was so hoping Whiffen could have the same luck. So sorry for his loss and condolences to all of you who worked so hard to help him. Horrible news about the parasite being now found in Beluga.

  3. andrea budge

    My deepest condolences for you all….you put in sooo much effort,in his care and well being….take pride in your efforts and the learning experience you gained!
    Carry on the fantastic work you do!!!

  4. Adri Cheney

    So very sad to read the news of Whiffen.. Poor dude, we were relieved when the team can and picked him up. Thank you to your team and your excellent work!

  5. Linda Leeson

    Whiffen was in the very best hands, had the very best care, and was given every chance available for a healthy recovery. This is why the Vancouver Aquarium is such a vital entity. It provides amazing learning opportunities, and allows everyone connected, either by staff, or followers, to be a part of it all. Thank you for your extremely hard work and dedication. What time Whiffen had with you was very special. All otters go to heaven.

  6. Karen

    I’m so sorry to hear of Whiffin’s passing. I had hoped he would survive. RIP little guy.

  7. Cheryle Taylor

    Such sad news!
    This little guy was rescued close to where I live, so I had a particular interest in his wellbeing.
    Thank you for all of your efforts to save and assist with Whiffen’s recovery!
    I hope that you will get some answers to the cause(s) of his ongoing health concerns. And perhaps Whiffen will somehow assist with the care of future sea creatures needing care!
    Thank so much, again!

  8. Arlana Powell

    Very sorry to hear this news. As much as we all wish that the wild creatures can be released back to their natural habitat sometimes it is not possible. Thanks to all who put so much time into Whiffen’s case, I am sure you all must be very sad too.


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