National Geographic : 1971 Oct
DARK FORM slipped through Con stantine Harbor's clear waters, just below the glassy surface. I gave a hand signal, and my Aleut assist ant Tony Bezezekoff gunned our outboard motor. In seconds we pulled even with our frantic prey, a four-foot sea otter critically needed for our scientific studies. Front paws pressed tightly against its chest, the otter slid into an evasive turn. We kept pace. I wedged my knee into the dory's bow and leaned out with a long-handled dip net. The animal's nose broke the surface, and I swung the net downward, snaring a hissing bundle of fur that I quickly pulled aboard. Susie Shed Light on Many Mysteries "How will we ever get that live wire into this?" Tony asked, looking at the otter and at a three-foot-long cage beside it. Unexpectedly, the otter obliged us. It stopped struggling and began investigating the net. First it tried to push the mesh away with mittenlike prehensile forepaws, then bit it. Chewing proved useless. An otter's jaws can crush the shells of mussels, snails, crabs, and sea urchins, but the teeth-lacking sharp cut ting edges-are ineffectual on soft strands. While the animal concentrated on the net, Tony held the open end of the cage upright, and I grabbed the otter's hind legs. Quick ly I lifted the startled animal from the net, lowered it into the cage, and closed the door. The hissing captive took a characteristically defensive position, reclining on its back with forepaws placed against its cheeks. Noting the two abdominal nipples, we promptly named our prize Susie. Tony started the engine. We headed for Kirilof dock 600 yards away. Susie watched every movement, her eyes wide. Twenty-eight-pound Susie proved to be a good pet and an excellent teacher. Her cap ture that day off Alaska's Amchitka Island occurred in September 1955; for six years EKTACHROME© NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY of the Sea Otter by JAMES A. MATTISON, JR., M.D.