Historic surgery, blood transfusion couldn’t save life of sea otter hit by boat

Corky, the injured sea otter rescued after being hit by a boat, has died at the Vancouver Aquarium.

Officials performed a groundbreaking surgery, which involved removing a damaged kidney and a first-ever blood transfusion on a sea otter, but Corky died on Wednesday. The aquarium posted this sad update on Facebook.

“Despite heroic efforts by the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre and an international team of veterinarians, Corky the sea otter succumbed to his injuries early Wednesday morning. Corky was rescued in August near Tofino after a suspected boat strike. He underwent first-of-its-kind surgery on Monday night to try and save his life. We knew his condition was critical, and that the odds were against him, but we gave it everything we had, including trying new surgery techniques to save him. His treatment contributes to a greater body of vet knowledge which will help us with future rescue efforts.”

Corky was named for the way he was floating at the surface when he was found north of Tofino, off Vancouver Island, in August. Staff at Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, along with members from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, scooped up the badly injured critter near Vargas Island.


Dr. Martin Haulena, head veterinarian at the aquarium, said Corky was very bloated and unable to dive. His team found an “extensive subcutaneous emphysema,” or air trapped in the layer under his skin.

“Our initial diagnostics indicate blunt force trauma, possibly from a boat strike, that fractured the rib and led to the collapse of a lung,” Dr. Haulena said.

Officials hoped to rehabilitate and release Corky.

Emergency surgery was performed on Oct. 5.


The aquarium posted this Facebook update the following day.

“Last night’s procedure included the first-ever kidney removal, as well as the first-known blood transfusion for a sea otter. Elfin, one of four rescued sea otters at the Vancouver Aquarium, was the blood donor for the transfusion. Corky was rescued near Tofino in August. He had a fractured rib, possibly from a boat strike, that led to air trapped under his skin (subcutaneous emphysema). Unable to dive or forage for food, Corky was transported to the Rescue Centre for treatment. Once the emphysema subsided, follow-up tests showed one of his kidneys had also likely ruptured during the initial trauma. It was clear that he would need surgery. Elfin’s blood was drawn at the Aquarium before being transported to the Rescue Centre. The surgery went as well as could be expected; Corky is in critical condition with a very guarded prognosis, and he will continue to receive 24-hour care at the Rescue Centre.”

But for a time, Corky was doing really well. This was Corky in September. The emphysema had subsided and he was diving better each day.


Corky UpdateHappy Sea Otter Awareness Week! Here’s an update on Corky, the sea otter currently undergoing rehabilitation at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. To help support Corky’s ongoing care and rehabilitation please visit: http://support.vanaqua.org/Corky – thank you! #GoCorky

Posted by Vancouver Aquarium on Saturday, September 19, 2015


Kudos to the veterinary team and condolences have been pouring in online.

Photos Vancouver Aquarium/Facebook

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