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Exxon spill survivor, otter Kenai, euthanized at age 23

Craig MedredAlaska Dispatch

A sad start to October for sea otter fans; on Tuesday, one of the two remaining otters rescued from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill was euthanized at the Chicago aquarium, according to an Associated Press report.

Kenai, as she was so called in tribute to her Alaska roots, was over 23 years old when she was put down, outstripping the typical otter life span by more than five years. The other remaining Exxon Valdez spill otter, a female named Homer, is living at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash., and officials there estimate she's 24 years old.

In 1989, Kenai was just a pup when she was rescued from the Exxon spill that devastated Prince William Sound. A group of rescue workers found her and her mother after the two were smothered in crude oil. Kenai's mother died from the toxins she absorbed, but young Kenai survived thanks to a compassionate biologist who nursed her back to health in a hotel bathroom.

After her recovery, Kenai traveled to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Ill., where executive vice president of animal care and training, Ken Ramirez, looked after her. Ramiez recalls that Kenai "literally fit in the palm" of his hand when she first arrived from Alaska. Ramirez told the AP:

(Kenai) has been through so much in her life and managed to bounce back from it. I can’t help but think of her as a survivor.

Over the years Kenai has provided biologist and researchers a lot of important information about sea otter habits and aging. While in residency at Shedd, Kenai underwent ovarian cyst surgery, experienced a root canal and suffered a stroke.

To read more and see pictures of brave ol' Kenai, check out the AP report at The Washington Post, here.