Not Unusual: 4-Year-Old Requires Asthma Inhaler. Adorable: 4-Year-Old Sea Otter

Mishka is a 4-year-old sea otter in Seattle, and she developed asthma a few years ago during a wildfire, and will now willingly use an inhaler to breathe.

By DAVID on August 24, 2018
(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Not only does Mishka require the use of a asthma inhaler, she knows exactly how it’s used and what for. She’s an otter at Seattle Aquarium in Washington, and the wildfire smoke and area haze hasn’t been good to her this year.

Caroline Hempstead is the biologist and animal care specialist who taught Mishka to use the inhaler. Mishka, by the way, is also understood to be the world’s only sea otter ever diagnosed with asthma. She doesn’t need her inhaler all the time, but has needed it more recently because of the fires up and down the west coast. It all started three years ago when there was a big fire in Washington. She developed asthma when the smoke from that fire drifted towards Seattle. To do monitor all the animals and their breathing when the air is especially bad, but Miska gets a little more special attention.

How does one train a sea otter to use an inhaler? Well, she’s not using it by herself, but she seems to understands why she needs it. During feeding time, Caroline will feed her a bit of food, and then present the inhaler. Mishka knows to press her nose into the cup, and breathe in. They listen to her lungs during the process to make sure all is well, and repeats if necessary. The inhaler itself was originally made for cats, but modified to better fit Mishka’s snout. Tim Kuniholm is the director of public affairs for the aquarium. He says that it is pretty unusual, and is a “willing” behavior. “When she actually does the inhaler, that animal breathes in that medication. That doesn’t just happen… That’s amazing behavior that animal willingly accepted. We think it’s the only one in the world that’s been done,” he says.


Around the site