The detective story had begun, as they always do, with a ringing phone. A biologist was on the line. He had found a corpse. A few days later he called a second time, having found another. Soon the calls were coming “again and again,” Melissa A. Miller recalls. “At the hıghest point, we were getting four a day.” As the bodies piled up, so did the questions.
Miller is a wildlife pathologist and veterinarian. The dead were California sea otters, a threatened subspecies of sea otter that today numbers fewer than 2,800 along the state's central coast. In all, more than 40 sick and dying otters washed ashore during that terrible April 2004 episode—an astounding number in such a short time.