20100519 sea otter 18
A five-year-old female sea otter holds her baby on her chest and swims in a large fish tank. - 

by Rob Schmitz

The "BP Sea Otter Habitat" probably sounded like a great name a month ago. But dead, oil-drenched sea otters have become symbols for the horrors of past spills, making the unveiling of this exhibit an apparent case of bad timing.

"Well, we're certainly getting some press. We'll have to see whether it's good or bad," says Jerry Schubel, president of the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Nonprofits who take funding from "less than popular" donors should tackle the problem head-on, says Melanie Lockwood Herman of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center.

"More than being a PR disaster for this institution, I think it's going to draw attention to the work that it does," says Lockwood Herman.

And that's exactly how the aquarium's Schubel plays it when I ask him if he worries about how his otter exhibit might be tainted -- so to speak -- by BP's oil spill.

"I worry more about how can we get society to think about how we're going to deal with these issues? That is something that our aquarium is committed to," says Schubel. "And getting off our addiction to oil is part of that story."

Just don't tell BP he said that.

Follow Rob Schmitz at @rob_schmitz