ODD BODKIN––HE SEEKS TO KILL SEA OTTERS
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1997:
ANCHORAGE––An “odd bodkin,” used in witchcraft
trials, was a telescoping needle used to prick the accused
without drawing blood, thereby assuring a guilty verdict.
Friends of Animals special investigator Carroll Cox,
formerly of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, thinks the oddest
bodkin he’s seen lately was the application seeking to kill
sea otters that National Biological Service sea otter research
project leader James L. Bodkin of the Alaska Science Center in
Anchorage submitted to the USFWS on March 17. Bodkin
applied to shoot up to 20 endangered sea otters to recover surgically
implanted time depth recorders (TDRs) and VHF transmitters,
just 31 days after getting USFWS permission to capture
and implant the devices in up to 100 sea otters on the proviso
that none would be intentionally killed or lastingly injured.
Bodkin was authorized to capture 225 Alaskan sea
otters and 50 California sea otters. The 50 California sea otters
and 50 Alaskan sea otters were to be implanted. They were not
to be recaptured until at least two months after the implanting,
and recapture attempts were to be allowed for up to two years.
The TDR units can each store up to 25 days’ worth of data.
Bodkin claimed to have allocated 50 days of working time to
recapturing the implanted sea otters.
However, the USFWS announcement of Bodkin’s
application to kill sea otters, dated April 18, published April
24, stated that “The applicant has requested an amendment to
the permit to lethally take up to 10 male and 10 female otters
who have eluded all other recapture attempts.”
The amendment would allow Bodkin to shoot sea
otters from shore with a .22 rifle, and if that didn’t kill them,
to “dispatch the wounded animal with a 12-gauge shotgun”
fired from a rowboat.
The maximum interval between Bodkin’s receipt of
the February 7 permit and USFWS acceptance of the application
for request of public comment was just 61 days. Even if
Bodkin’s March 17 application to kill sea otters was strictly
precautionary, it followed so closely after his original application
to do nonlethal research as to indicate that he already knew
when he submitted the first application that he couldn’t do what
he proposed without killing many more than just the maximum
of three sea otters the USFWS allowed him to kill by accident.
Even if Bodkin’s March 17 application was made in
good faith, and even if all the implants were done right after
the February 7 permit was issued, a 34-hour procedure to do all
100 otters within the 20-minute maximum holding time permitted
per otter, assuming the otters were captured one right after
another without delay, there was no time for any otters to have
eluded recapture if the original protocol was followed.
As Cox pointed out to ANIMAL PEOPLE, all the
application really does, if approved, is enable Bodkin to shoot
up to 20 sea otters at will.
“The original permit never addressed any concerns
regarding the longterm impact the TDRs will have on the animals,”
Cox wrote to USFWS on May 23, having received
notice of the lethal take application only hours before the littlepublicized
comment period expired. “Even the amendment
failed to state what the longterm effect will be. If there will not
be a negative impact on the sea otters, then the animals should
be left alone. If there is an impact, every effort should be
made for the nonlethal recovery of the animals and removal of
the TDRs, as originally intended.
“Mr. Bodkin is too willing to apply lethal methods,”
Cox continued. “The original permit allowed him up to two
years to recapture the otters. The additional time should be
used to make sure the animals are captured alive, or to determine
how they will be affected if not recovered. Mr. Bodkin’s
failure to openly discuss the probability that the recovery of all
implanted animals may not be possible suggests that he knew
the risks but did not want to jeopardize the project. The failure
of the USFWS Office of Management Authority to address the
issue of recovery tarnishes the integrity of the entire permit
process. By not addressing the impact of TDRs on the affected
animals and only assuming full recovery, instead of making
full recovery a condition of the original permit, OMA erred in
the issuance of the permit. Since the permittee also failed to
disclose such information in the original permit, and failed to
abide by the original permit, the amendment should be denied
and the original permit revoked.”
The import of the Bodkin application, Cox told ANIMAL
PEOPLE, is not just the 20 sea otter lives at stake: it
also reflects the quality of science used in guiding U.S. environmental
policy, and the willingness of both scientists and regulators
to bend the rules. In this case, Cox argues, both Bodkin
and USFWS should have known that sea otters and TDR transmitters
would be lost, including to sharks, and should have
recognized the difficulty of recovering implanted monitoring
devices after failing to successfully monitor translocations of
California sea otters from the Monterey Bay National Marine
Sanctuary to San Nicolas Island, 1987-1992.
Of the 139 sea otters moved, about half swam back
to Monterey Bay; 15 stayed there; 11 died; and the fate of at
least 40 was never determined.
Ironically, after the experiment was termed a failure,
some sea otters moved to San Nicolas Island on their own.