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Toola, bearing a gift.
Toola, the Epic Otter Ambassidor.

Lost amidst the sound and fury of Republican primary politics, small earthquakes in San Francisco, and other minor disasters was some news out of the Monterey Bay Aquarium that left me sad and a little bit bitter: on March 3rd, early in the morning, Toola the sea otter passed away. And a little bit of me died along with her.

Toola was a consummate ambassador, from the sea otter world to the human one. She moved into the aquarium in 2001, and immediately took over the duties of caring for young rescued sea otters from the humans who had been handling it (poorly) up until that point. She also inspired the aquarium to train other female sea otters to be foster mothers, something they had never tried before. (This despite a crippling case of epilepsy caused by toxoplasmosis, for which she had to be medicated twice a day.) And when a certain California legislator (named, amusingly enough, Dave Jones) brought his son to visit the aquarium one day, Toola was front and center among the otters on display.

When Will Jones heard about the problems the otters were facing, he turned to his dad with tears in his eyes and said, "Dad, can't you do something to help them?" And his dad could do something, and did do something... certainly more than I've ever been able to do. But our best ambassador is dead now, and it doesn't look like anyone's done nearly enough. Or, given the realities of government today, that anyone is likely to, before it's too late.

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There's a spot on the Pacific Coast, not too far from Monterey, where you can go and watch the sea otters play. I could watch them for hours: ducking under the water, popping out behind another otter, giving him a playful nip and then disappearing again before he can turn around. Leaping on one another, play-fighting, wrestling, cuddling. In May, if you have a really good pair of binoculars, you can often watch the mothers nursing their young, tiny little balls of fluff and whiskers. If you have a really good camera, you can get some pretty amazing pictures, such as this one by Mike Baird. (Used by permission.)

I know I could watch them for hours, because I have. But it's beginning to look like a distinct possibility that I won't be able to for much longer: the otter population is declining, and nobody really knows why. And, right now, there is next to no funding dedicated to finding out.

If you care, please join me below the break for more details, and to find out what you can do.

Poll

What will you do to help the sea otters?

52%26 votes
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| 50 votes | Vote | Results

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