In only the fourth sea otter release in the Alaska SeaLife Center's history, officials with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network released a mature male otter off the end of the Homer Spit on Monday morning.
Once let out of his pen, Corky, estimated to be between 7- and 9-months old, quickly walked down the icy beach and dove into the water near the Homer Pioneer Dock. He swam around icebergs floating off the beach and checked out several other otters in the area.
"It's going to be an amazing case," said Tim Lebling, director of the stranding network.
Most sea otters found stranded on beaches are either too young to be rehabilitated and released into the wild or too sick to survive, Lebling said. Stranded otters also are usually found on ocean beaches, but a Soldotna resident, Rebecca Stimmel, found Corky on Nov. 29 near Mile 5 Kenai Spur Highway, about 14 to 18 miles up the Kenai River. Stimmel, who attended Monday's release, rescued Corky by wrapping him in a blanket.
"Have you ever held an otter in your lap?" she said at the release.
While sick when he was found, Corky still foraged and groomed himself -- a good sign, Lebling said.
"Corky saved his own life," he said.
SeaLife Center veterinarians tested Corky and found he had a bacterial infection. Some Cook Inlet and Kachemak Bay sea otters have been found either dead or dying with a bacterial infection that affects their hearts, called valvular endocarditis. An ultrasound showed Corky had no heart lesions. After a round of antibiotics, Corky was cured of the bacterial infection. Staff at the SeaLife Center fed Corky around the clock on a diet of shrimp, razor clams, mussels and crab to restore him to health.
Corky has two tags on his rear flippers, a teal tag with the number 519 on his right flipper and a pink tag with the number 64 on his left flippers. Lebling asked anyone seeing Corky to report location, behavior, foraging and if other otters are nearby to the SeaLife Center Stranded Hotline at 888-774-7325.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.