Since sharing an update on rescued sea otter Elfin’s health, we have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of kind words and fond memories shared by Vancouver Aquarium members, visitors, employees, and volunteers. It’s been heartwarming to reflect on Elfin’s life through the eyes of those who had come to know and love him during the last 16 years.
Sadly, the moment we were preparing for came over the weekend. Late last week, our marine mammal care team observed Elfin resting more than usual and responded immediately by moving him to a quiet, calm environment behind-the-scenes at the Aquarium. Providing around-the-clock palliative care, the veterinary team administered treatment, provided fluids, and ensured Elfin was as comfortable as possible. Unfortunately, his condition continued to worsen, and on Saturday, April 1, Elfin passed away peacefully, surrounded by many of his favourite people.
“From the day he arrived as a pup, we’ve learned so much from Elfin. We feel grateful to have cared for him well into the elderly stage of his life,” said Vancouver Aquarium head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena. After diagnosing Elfin with lymphoma in 2016, Dr. Haulena collaborated with veterinary oncologists from around the world to develop a chemotherapeutic treatment plan that proved successful for more than a year. More recently, the veterinary team transitioned to providing end-of-life care for Elfin and ensuring he was happy and content.
Elfin joined the Vancouver Aquarium family in October 2001, after his rescue from waters new Juneau, Alaska by a fisherman in July of the same year. After waiting for hours, hoping the mother otter would return, the fisherman brought the three-pound, two- to three-day old Elfin to the Alaska SeaLife Centre where he received around-the-clock care. As Elfin didn’t have sufficient time with his mother to learn skills necessary for his survival, he was deemed non-releasable by U.S. officials and the Vancouver Aquarium became his forever home.
“This once-abandoned sea otter has had a profound impact on so many human lives,” added Dr. Haulena. “From the veterinarians who provided intensive care during the first and final months of his life, to the marine mammal trainers who created dynamic and enriched days for him, to the countless visitors who were inspired by and learned from him, Elfin’s legacy will be long-lasting.”
Sea otters face a number of challenges in the wild. During its first six months, a sea otter pup is highly dependent on its mother for food and, without her, is unable to survive. Much of the mother’s energy is dedicated to the pup and, as a result, her health may decline over the feeding period. Female sea otters give birth every year so if she determines that she has a better chance of rearing a pup the following year, due to environmental factors or availability of prey, then she may abandon the pup before it’s weaned. In adult life, sea otters continue to face numerous threats including disease, oil spills, predation, interactions with fisheries, and overharvest.
Ninety per cent of the world’s sea otters live in Alaska’s coastal waters. Within the state of Alaska, the Southeast and Southcentral stocks are stable or are continuing to increase. The Southwestern stock is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) after experiencing a sharp population decline over the last two decades, attributed to an increase in predation from transient killer whales. In British Columbia, sea otters are found along the windswept west coast of Vancouver Island and the central coast, near Bella Bella. The B.C. sea otter population was downlisted to a species of Special Concern in April 2007 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada and through the B.C. Wildlife Act. They are protected by the federal government’s Canada Fisheries Act, and the B.C. Wildlife Act.
Learn more about the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre – how we work to save stranded animals like Elfin and the other sea otters as well as Levi and Chester, and how what we learn from them helps marine mammals in the wild.
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by the Port of Vancouver, 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. www.vanaqua.org/mmr