MONTEREY (CBS/AP) — A sea otter described by officials at the Monterey Bay Aquarium as the most important animal in the history of the aquarium’s otter research program has died.

Aquarium officials say a female otter named Toola died in the aquarium’s veterinary care center early Saturday.

Aquarium spokesman Ken Peterson says Toola died of natural causes and of infirmities of age. She was believed to be 15 or 16.

Peterson says she was the first rescued sea otter that aquarium officials know of anywhere in the world that helped raise sea otter pups that were later successfully returned to the wild.

Toola is credited with helping young sea otters survive after their mother was killed by sharks, a common occurrence along the California coast, or they were separated in a storm.

She was brought to the aquarium after being found stranded on a beach in Pismo Beach in July 2001.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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