BOOKS: Lootas, Little Wave Eater

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1999:

Lootas, Little Wave Eater:
An Orphaned Sea Otter’s Story
by Clare Hodgson Meeker
with photos by C.J. Casson
Sasquatch Books (615 2nd Ave.,
Suite 260, Seattle, WA 98104), 1999.
48 pages, paperback. $12.95.

From 400 to 600 Alaskan sea otters
now inhabit the Washington coast, according
to the U.S. Geological Survey in a newly
released national biodiversity inventory. They
are the only sea otters who are now doing
well. Off Alaska, where sea otters were
abundant enough in 1997 that marine mammologist
James Bodkin suggested that they
could be hunted, numbers have fallen, apparently
because orcas who can’t find enough
fish to eat are eating sea otters instead.

California sea otters are also in decline, as
frequent prey of great white sharks amid a fish
scarcity. Some suspect the otters are also
killed by abalone and sea urchin gatherers.
As of 1930, sea otters were considered
extinct, after two centuries of aggressive
fur hunting. Then the California subspecies
was rediscovered off Big Sur. A decade later
remnants of the much larger and somewhat
differently colored Alaskan subspecies turned
up. Thirty Alaskan sea otters were relocated
to the Olympic region of Washington in 1970.
Just 10 of the translocated sea otters
and their offspring remained by 1977, when
the Seattle Aquarium opened, featuring Etika,
an eight-year-old Alaskan female, who
became a highly telegenic ambassador for sea
otter recovery. In 1979 Etika became the first
and still only captive Alaskan sea otter to birth
and successfully raise a pup. She raised four
in all. At her death in November 1997, Etika
was at age 28 the oldest sea otter on record.
Among the mourners were Kodiak,
the present Seattle Aquarium male; Kenai,
a.k.a. Annie, orphaned by the 1989 E x x o n
Valdez oil spill, whose only pup was stillborn
in August 1997; and Lootas, orphaned at one
month old by a 1996 boating accident.
Lootas, Little Wave Eater is the
closely focused story of Lootas’ early life and
introduction to the Seattle Aquarium family.
It is written and extensively illustrated for
children, but will no doubt also interest adults
who meet her at the aquarium.
Only passing reference is made to
the history and plight of sea otters in general.
In fairness, however, the recent reversal of
their recovery in Alaskan and California
waters was unknown when Clare Hodgson
Meeker wrote the book. She may have imagined,
like most of the conservation community,
that the survival of sea otters as a species
was no longer in doubt.

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