YOICKS!!!

A sea otter's sudden, surprising move brings back the old comic-book days phrase during a trip to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport.

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I remember that word, along with "Gadzooks," from my comic-book days.

When something unexpected or surprising happened, the bubble above Daffy Duck’s head often said, "Yoicks!"

That’s how I remember it, although Webster says "Yoicks" dates back to 1774 and is "used as a cry of encouragement to hounds after a fox."

Hummmph.

Well, I said "Yoicks!" when the sea otter swirled and snapped its teeth sharply 14 times about an inch from a child’s tender fingers.

I wasn’t the only one. Thirty of us (or 50) huddled around the otter-feeding scene at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport.

Actually, I didn’t hear anyone else say "Yoicks!"

I did hear a group-wide GASP, however, and I sensed a reflexive half-a-step backward.

The "ah, how sweet" moment soured in a blink.

We had watched as two otters voraciously gnashed clam and fish delicacies tossed out by handlers. They use their bellies as a table.

Then one otter slipped silently to the crowded window and appeared to lean its face against a child’s hand pressed against the thick acrylic wall.

A really wild critter caressing a child’s hand, or vice-versa. Really cute.

Then the otter swirled, slapping spray against the wall and snapping its teeth.

The child’s hand didn’t move. I said "Yoicks!" and stepped back. The otter seemed to laugh.

So, it’s never dull when I visit the aquarium in Newport.

The 10:30 a.m. otter-feeding time is a favorite, of course. But handlers feed sea lions and seals, and that’s also interesting.

I especially enjoy the Oddwater exhibit with its colorful and unusual (strange?) sea creatures.

Vividly colored blown-glass objects, created by The Edge Art Gallery in South Beach, add beauty to the Oddwater exhibits, which often display even more colorful creatures that have developed specialized features and abilities by adapting to their demanding environments.

The chambered nautilus, for example, moves by jet propulsion. The lion fish uses its beauty to attract prey.

While some of the creatures’ traits seem bizarre, they work.

Oddwater also has a small pool where visitors may touch (harmless) sting rays and sharks.

In the "Passages of the Deep" exhibit, the popular Keiko’s (a killer whale) former home, visitors walk through acrylic tunnels surrounded by several feet of sea water.

Sharks, skates and a variety of fish swim above and below. Waves surge against the tunnel walls. A shipwreck rests on the bottom.

I spent an 15-or-so minutes with the photogenic tufted puffins in the aviary.

It’s an opportunity to observe them from 15 feet away. They are colorful birds for being mainly black and white.

The aviary also features other coastal birds, including rhinoceros auklets, pigeon guillemots, common murres and black oystercatchers.

Anyway, I arrived at the aquarium when it opened at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday, while my wife, Darlene, and Nora the Schnauzer combed a nearby beach because we didn’t want to leave Nora alone in the car.

I had much of the place to myself for awhile. I spent 40 minutes at the Oddwater exhibit and moved on to the Passages of the Deep.

The knowledgeable young guide there walked me through the tunnels.

He talked about the rockfish (which he called something like "Greta" or "Gertrude."), the two sturgeon, the long-nosed skates, the sharks and so on.

Soon, however, other people arrived and competed for his time, so I moved on to the aviary and the puffins.

At a few minutes before 10:30, I ambled over to watch the otter feeding and found 30 to 50 people already crowded before the acrylic wall.

I tried several vantage points but kept getting in the way of children.

So, I visited the seal and sea lion exhibit and took the nature walk.

In a half hour or so, I walked back to watch the otters along with 50 other dawdlers.

That’s when the child appeared to be petting one otter through the acrylic.

After jumping and snapping the shots, I stepped out of the crowd, turned my back to the sun and checked the camera’s LCD window.

I had the photos, but they didn’t suggest "Yoicks!" That actually looked like the child held the otter in her arms and that it yawned with pleasure.

Then, as I checked the time, another otter, sated by its morning meal, climbed upon a rock to preen its fur (a very important task, to keep it healthy and protective).

"GADZOOKS!" I mumbled. "I’m late for a very important date."

I snapped a final otter photo and hurried off to meet Darlene and Nora for lunch.

I snapped my teeth at the thought of crab and fish delicacies.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com or at 526-8326.
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