The Monterey Bay Aquarium says a rapid onset of acute Sarcocystis neurona infection caused the death of Gidget the sea otter in February.
The infection can be contracted in the wild by eating prey that carry the parasite. The aquarium’s veterinary medical team infer that Gidget was exposed either by her food or by a seabird that defecated while flying over the open-air exhibit.
It wasn’t immediately clear what caused Gidget’s sudden decline in health when she died back in February.
Gidget was widely-known as being a crucial part of the sea otter exhibit at the aquarium. She served as a mother in the surrogacy program for other stranded pups who lived at the aquarium. Her DNA was also used to sequence the sea otter genome.
Gidget was once a stranded sea otter herself. She was found on Morro Strand State Beach in October 2008 when she was a 10-week-old pup.
Dr. Mike Murray is the Director of Veterinary Services for the aquarium and says Gidget touched millions of people and her death makes them even more determined to add more safeguards for the sea otters in their care.
The aquarium will continue to feed their rescued pups live food items because it is an important step in the learning process when reintroducing them to the wild.