RESCUE EFFORT WINDS DOWN

On Friday, the Sea Otter Rescue Facility in Seward, Alaska, is scheduled to close. With cold weather setting in, it's time to pack up. ``We worked flat out,'' says Jim Styer, director. Saving 160 otters at Seward was ``the best we could have done with the facilities we had.''

Exxon puts the total cost for bird- and sea-mammal rescue at more than $20 million.

Toward summer's end, rescuers found fewer and fewer oil-covered otters. The greatest remaining danger is toxicity, says Mr. Styer, if otters ingest too much oil.

The oil is now drifting in many pieces, spreading over 500 miles away from Valdez, says Bruce Batten, spokesman for the US Fish and Wildlife Department. ``It's difficult to deal with,'' he adds, because it hits some beaches, misses others, sinks, rises, and is pushed by tides. Some 15,000 otters may still be at risk from the oil.

Over the winter, the most that federal officials can do is monitor the situation, he says. Twenty-five percent of the otters released have radio transmitters.

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