The Mighty Dead: Toola, the Sea Otter

toola_randywildermontereybay

Toola with a pup: Randy Wilder, Monterey Bay Aquarium

Toola, the first sea otter ever to foster stranded pups, is one of the Mighty Dead. She persevered, in spite of her daily seizures, to pioneer the rehabilitation of sea otters back into the wild. Moreover, Toola inspired important legislation for sea otter conservation. Most importantly, she fostered thirteen stranded pups who now have successfully raised families on their own in the wild. Toola is considered, by many, to be the otter who saved the southern sea otters from extinction in the wild.

Before Toola, the Monterey Bay (California) Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation Program (Sea Otter Program) could not successfully release stranded pups to back into the wild. Raised by humans, these sea otters were too accustomed to people to survive on their own. The Sea Otter Program, which was started in 1984, was failing in its main mission. Then Toola was rescued in 2001.

Found on a beach, suffering from seizures, Toola, who was pregnant, was taken to the Aquarium. The vets determined that she was suffering from toxoplasmosis, a parasite spread by cat feces. Toola could never be returned to the wild, since she needed daily medicine to contain her seizures. Adding to her woes, Toola lost her pup.

The Aquarium was now faced with a dilemma – what to do with the grieving Toola and a weakened pup who had been stranded. They decided to see if Toola would nurse the young pup. No aquarium or sea rescue group had ever thought of having sea otters as foster mothers before. Toola took to mothering as her mission in life. She became the first of many sea otter mothers to foster pups. Toola taught the pup, now her foster son, how to dive, how to crack open clams, and how to successfully eat crabs. Her pup is now the head of a pod of otters, and the father of many pups himself. Since her arrival, the Aquarium has had a successful release rate, now they had Toola teaching them.

Toola raised awareness of the human impact on the environment for sea otters. Since her deadly toxoplasmosis could only be abated by daily doses of medicine, Toola had to remain at the Aquarium. This parasite found its way into the watershed system by the careless dumping of used cat litter. Assemblyman Dave Jones (D. Sacramento) enacted legislation to place warnings on kitty litter bags about the proper disposal. He also set up a donation box for the California Sea Otter Fund on income tax forms. More funding also was allocated to saving the southern sea otters.

Toola died of old age (about 16 years old) in March 2012. Dr. Mike Murray, the Aquarium’s veterinarian, said “I will argue that these is no other single sea otter that had a greater impact upon the sea otter species…” He joked that she ruled the Aquarium with an iron webbed fist. Dr. Murray said of her passing, “Toola did what she has always done. She went out her way on her terms. May we all be blessed to go out the same way.”

Salve Toola!
Great Foster Mother
Teacher of Sea Otters
Teacher of Humans
Wild Heart
Ruler of the Aquarium

Many are the wild pups
You fostered while
Captive.

Salve Toola!
Great Mother of Sea Otters

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