Aquarium Teaches Asthmatic Otter to Use Inhaler
Mishka's trainers at Seattle Aquarium are trying to make it fun
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 17, 2015 3:59 PM CDT

(Newser) – The Seattle Aquarium has diagnosed a sea otter with asthma and is training the animal to use an inhaler. KING-TV reports Dr. Lesanna Lahner diagnosed the otter, named Mishka, after she was having trouble breathing when smoke from wildfires was in the Seattle area. "These lungs ... have more white in them," she says in the KING-TV video. "In a normal radiograph of a sea otter, you wouldn't be able to see those things." Mishka's trainer uses food to teach the 1-year-old to push her nose on the inhaler and take a deep breath. The medication in the otter's inhaler is exactly the same as what humans use. "We want to make this as fun as possible," Lahner says. "Any kind of medical behavior you're training, you want to make sure it's nice and positive."

Sea otters went extinct in Washington, and 40 years ago, Alaskan sea otters were brought south and reintroduced to the coast. "Any time that happens and reduces the genetic diversity of a species, that can affect their immune system, ability to fight off diseases, or deal with environmental contaminants," Lahner tells KING-TV. What's most interesting is that Mishka's plight may be tipping us off to our own. "Sometimes those species can tell us there is a problem in the environment that could be important for human health as well," says a doctor and professor at the University of Washington in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Services. Human asthma cases are up 25% over the last 10 years, and scientists believe air quality is the cause, KING-TV notes. (Don't believe air pollution is bad news? A new study says it kills more than 3 million people annually.)