Washington Oiled Sea Otter Response Handbook


The Northwest Wildlife Response Plan (Chapter 9970, II, A, iii) directs the USFWS and WDFW to develop appropriate response actions to effectively recover and care for oiled sea otters in the Northwest Area. It further directs the trustees to authorize individuals to collect, transport and rehabilitate oiled sea otters within the legal framework of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (16 USC 1379(h) and 1382(c)). This Handbook provides the organizational and specific operational guidance needed to conduct an oiled sea otter recovery and rehabilitation effort. It describes how oiled sea otters would be located and recovered on the outer coast of Washington State, how they would be transported to treatment facilities for rehabilitation and then re-acclimated for release back into the wild. This handbook is intended to provide guidance when dealing with oiled otters. The Wildlife Branch Director may make adjustments to this guidance based on situational circumstances and expert opinion.

In recent years, approximately 1,100 sea otters (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) were estimated to populate the outer coast of Washington. This growing population of sea otters is found along the coast from Point Grenville north to Neah Bay and is at risk from an oil spill affecting those waters. Unlike most marine mammals that possess a thick layer of insulating blubber sea otters are highly vulnerable to oil because they depend on their exquisitely maintained pelage (fur) for insulation. When sea otter fur becomes oiled there is an immediate loss of thermal protection.

Sea otters in Washington State are not listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act, but they are listed as Endangered on Washington’s Species of Concern (SOC) List and they are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.