Whiffen the rescued otter dies during procedure
Whiffen the sea otter pictured at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre in Vancouver, B.C., March 4th, 2014. (JASON LANG/ SPECIAL TO 24 HOURS)
The Vancouver Aquarium's rescued otter Whiffen — who inspired the Twitter hashtag #GoWhiffen — died on Saturday an hour into a medical procedure.
A rehabilitation team from the aquarium's Marine Mammal Rescue Centre plucked the emaciated sea otter from a beach near Sooke on Feb. 23, suffering from seizures and a badly wounded flipper. But despite stabilizing Whiffen's health since the rescue, the otter wasn't gaining weight and developed head tremors, potentially caused by a parasite known as toxoplasma.
Veterinarians put the otter under an anesthetic for an MRI on Saturday to investigate their suspicions — but Whiffen never came out.
“He's been under quite intensive care for a long time, but unfortunately he kind of reached a plateau and was there for quite some time,” the aquarium's head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena told 24 hours. “To be honest, I was sort of surprised he even made it into the facility … We were hoping for the best, but knew his changes were really poor.”
Haulena said if toxoplasma were the cause, it raises many questions as the parasite normally affects cats, not marine mammals. It has somehow transferred to both southern sea otter populations and even Arctic belugas, raising climate change questions, he said.
“The only way to continue its life cycle is through feline species,” he said. “How did it wind up affecting aquatic species?”