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First Calif. otter to survive oil spill beats odds again, has a pup

SAN FRANCISCO -- Just three years after she was found covered in oil and near death, a California sea otter called Olive is a new mom -- another milestone for the first otter to survive an oiling in the state.

The California Department of Fish and Game said Friday that "Olive the Oiled Otter" was spotted recently swimming on her back with a pup resting on her belly.

"Olive is an attentive mother, frequently grooming, nursing and holding her pup," the agency said in a statement.

The birth continued the remarkable story of the animal rescued in 2009 from a beach near Santa Cruz. It also was welcome news following a recent state and federal study that found tepid growth of the threatened California sea otter population on the Central Coast.

Scientists say oil is especially harmful to the species that has the thickest coat of any mammal. When the animal's coat is damaged by oil, its skin is exposed to cold water, which can lead to hypothermia and death because otters don't have a layer of blubber like other marine mammals.

The U.S. Geological Survey said there are 2,792 sea otters left in the California population, which spans more than 200 miles of the Central Coast, from Morro Bay to Half Moon Bay.

The animals once ranged from Mexico to Alaska, but they were hunted to near extinction in the early 20th century for their fur.

David Jessup, a veterinarian with the state wildlife agency who washed Olive, said the animal was "circling the drain" when she arrived.

"She was in very bad condition," Jessup said. "She had probably been oiled for some period of time and (had) not eaten."