Nuka with 2 other sea otter friendsShedd employees were saddened to learn that Nuka, one of the Oceanarium’s original sea otters, died on Thursday, May 27, at the Seattle Aquarium, where she had lived since 2001. The 21-year-old northern sea otter had been part of Shedd’s quartet of Exxon Valdez oil spill survivors. Like the others, Nuka (shown in the center of this 1990 photo) was a pup when she was pulled from the fouled waters of Prince William Sound in spring of 1989 and sent to a sea otter rescue center for around-the-clock care. Tiny pups orphaned or abandoned in the aftermath of the spill could not be released back into the wild on their own, so the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed them at qualified North American aquariums. Shedd’s were the first sea otters on display in the Midwest.

In a press release from Seattle Aquarium, officials said that Nuka, who had several health issues related to her advanced age, had been declining for several months, although she continued to interact with the aquarium’s other otters until the end. On Wednesday, however, the aquarium’s curators, mammals biologists and veterinarian discussed her worsening condition and, after also conferring with Shedd’s marine mammals staff, made the decision to humanely euthanize her. The release stated, "Nuka’s story helped to increase awareness of the impact of oil and other pollutants in our fragile marine environment. The irony is not lost that she came into this world during a catastrophic oil spill and leaves it while we are struggling to respond to another."

Only two other sea otters from the Exxon Valdez oil spill survived, including Kenai, the matriarch of Shedd’s sea otter population. While Kenai has slowed down, she is still in good health.

--Karen Furnweger, web editor