Following the month by month progression of his Year . . . books, Scheffer combines information about sea otters in general; observations of one orphaned sea otter, Barney, rescued on the beach by 18-year-old Penny Moreno and later released to the sea; and the otter-centered doings and conversations of the people we meet through Barney--art student Penny, a vet who helps her, an official from the Fishery Agency, and a conservation group called Otters Alive. This method allows Scheffer to report on findings not illustrated by the fictitious Barney, and it gives a little narrative interest to the scientific investigation. (It also makes for some corny bits about sensitive Penny of the flashing eyes, quick mind, and shining hair--passages quite different from Scheffer's characteristic bursts of eloquence, though they also surface here from time to time.) Besides watching Barney as he feeds and mates, we learn of the advantages of the species' oversized lungs, kidneys, and livers; and we hear of a sea otter census, cause-of-death surveys, feeding studies (and the claims of commercial fishermen that sea otter competition interferes with their livelihood), talk of relocating colonies, and controversy over the very idea of disturbing sea otters to study them. Scheffer's writing is a bit artificial in the human scenes, impressive as always with the natural material, and successful overall in projecting the complex and unavoidable interaction between the two.