Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Walter, a sea otter blinded by a shotgun blast, swims at the Vancouver Aquarium. Officials say the extent of his injuries means releasing him isn’t an option.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

When Martin Haulena first saw the sea otter that had taken a shotgun blast to the head, the animal had multiple injuries and was barely clinging to life.

"Walter was in terrible body condition," said Dr. Haulena, the veterinarian who leads the marine mammal rescue team at the Vancouver Aquarium. "He was blind. He had a very serious flipper injury. Basically, this was an animal in dire straits."

But Walter, whose shooting underscores a delicate balancing act on the West Coast where reintroduced sea otters are competing with humans for shellfish, is in safer waters now.

Story continues below advertisement

The Vancouver Aquarium announced Tuesday that the sea otter, which someone tried to kill last fall near Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, has largely recovered from his injuries. Because he is permanently blind, however, Walter will remain in the care of the Vancouver Aquarium, rather than being released.

For now, said Dr. Haulena, the otter is being kept in isolation because it's not clear how well he will interact with other otters.

"He does need food to be brought very close to him," said Dr. Haulena. "Basically, he gets all of his food dropped on his chest, piece by piece."

But he said Walter is adapting to his new world and the day may come when he can swim with Katmai, Tanu and Elfin, three other rescued sea otters under the care of the Vancouver Aquarium.

Anne Salomon, at Simon Fraser University's school of environmental management, said there are increasing conflicts with sea otters because the animals – seen by some as adorably photogenic and by others as troublesome predators – are expanding their range.

"People who didn't grow up with them can feel in direct competition when they show up and start to feed on shellfish," Dr. Salomon said. "These tensions are very real … up in Alaska, through B.C. and all the way to California."

Sea otters once thrived on the B.C. coast, but the fur trade led to overhunting and they had vanished by 1920. In 1969, 70 otters were reintroduced from Alaska and, since then, the population has grown to an estimated 4,700.

Story continues below advertisement

Paul Cottrell, Pacific marine mammal co-ordinator for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said sea otters are thriving in some areas, particularly north of Tofino, and that has led to some conflict, because the animals prey on geoduck clams, sea urchins and other shellfish highly valued by humans.

"We've heard there are issues … there is concern there may be competition [between humans and otters] in some areas," said Mr. Cottrell. "Unfortunately, we get a few shot sea otters every year."

He didn't speculate on the motivation for the shooting of Walter.

"It's hard to know. It's just a tragedy," he said of the incident.

Mr. Cottrell said a call to DFO's 24-hour hot line (1-800-465-4336) brought the plight of the injured sea otter to his attention.

The fisheries officer in Tofino, Denise Koshowski, was sent to investigate. She located the animal and kept it under observation until a marine mammal rescue team from the Vancouver Aquarium arrived.

Story continues below advertisement

"She followed it along the shore … It was evident this guy was not right," said Mr. Cottrell. "It's amazing what the aquarium did [in helping the animal recover]."

Don Hall, fisheries program manager for the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation, said the reintroduction of sea otters has been changing the West Coast ecosystem, and not to everyone's liking.

"This is a complicated issue," he said. "They definitely are posing a problem for harvesters of shellfish and they have definitely changed the feeding habits of the Nuu-chah-nulth. … If you like eating crabs and clams and urchins – well, they are not present any more in the areas where sea otters have been reintroduced."

Mr. Hall said the Nuu-chah-nulth, whose traditional robes are made from sea-otter pelts, welcome the return of the animals because " in the long run they'll help build a much healthier ecosystem."

But he said the benefits are not quickly obvious and in the meantime some may view sea otters as unwanted competition.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies