Rehabilitation and Patho-Physiological Effects of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill on Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris)

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Keith Ronald

Second Advisor

Curtis Burney

Third Advisor

Richard E. Dodge


Prior to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, very little information was known regarding the reaction and subsequent treatment of sea otters (Enhydra lutris) exposed to oil. Many otters affected by the spill received care at rehabilitation centres, where much was learnt about the treatment of oil contaminated sea otters in captivity.

Unlike most marine mammals that have a layer of blubber, sea otters depend on their fur layer for insulation. During the ~vent of an oil spill, oil coats the fur layer, the hairs clump together and the pelage loses its capacity of insulation. This results in hypothermia and ultimately death. The ingestion of oil by licking, and the inhalation of toxic fumes from crude oil results in lesions of the stomach, liver, kidneys and other organs causing severe patho-physiological disorders that can ultimately lead to death.

This review will discuss the patho-physiological disorders and assess the rehabilitation of oiled otters. Recommendations will be made, so better rehabilitation (higher survivourship) can occur in future rescues.

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