March 6th 2012 9:48 pm
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By Jeannie Evers
Toola spent more than 10 years in the sea otter exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but what her caretakers loved the most about her was her wild side.
"She kept the wildness with her, even though she had grown very comfortable in the aquarium," said veterinarian Dr. Mike Murray. "She was the boss and let everyone know it."
Toola, who was the first sea otter ever to be a surrogate mother to stranded pups, died of natural causes early Saturday in the aquarium's veterinary care center. She was about 15 or 16 years old.
Staff members described her as frisky and feisty, nurturing and maternal. And they trumpeted her legacy as the inspiration for critical legislation that is helping protect the species in the wild.
"Toola was without question the most important animal in the history of our program," said Andrew Johnson, manager of the aquarium's 28-year-old Sea Otter Research and Conservation program.
Toola was about five years old when she was found stranded on Pismo Beach on July 21, 2001, and brought to the aquarium. She suffered from a seizure disorder, likely caused by a parasite that can be carried by cats.
Her story led to legislation in 2006 that created the California Sea Otter Fund, which has raised more than $1 million in taxpayer contributions for research into diseases and other threats facing otters in the wild.
Toola continued to do her part on a more personal scale, acting as surrogate mother to 13 pups, 11 of which were released into the wild. At least five of them are still alive. Two others now behind the scenes at the aquarium are on track for release later this year.
"She was really great at teaching the pups what they need to do in the wild," said aquarium spokesman Ken Peterson.
Her first pup was placed with her in November 2001 after she gave birth to a stillborn. She took to her new ward instantly, Peterson said. That pup, No. 217, is still alive and thriving in Moss Landing.
Her last pup was weaned from her Friday after it was clear her health was failing.
Leave A Comment | 5 people already have
Good job, Miss Toola! Thank you for helping all them young sea otter pups have another chance in the wild!
What a wonderful spirit !
Sail on Calm Seas with Fair Winds Toola
what a great story love those kinds of things...happy stories
Woofs and licks to Toola!
May she rest and swim peacefurlly in the ponds of the RB.
Thanks fur sharing, Jamaica:)
Hi Flicka, Petey & MrJack! Thanks fur visiting my diary!