One of the World’s Oldest Sea Otters Enjoys 20th Birthday at the Oregon Zoo
Sea Otter Celebrates 20th Birthday Dunking Baskets
An elderly sea otter named Eddie enjoyed his 20th birthday by playing his usual game of basketball.
Eddie, a long term resident of the Oregon Zoo, turned 20 Friday, an exceptionally long life for otters. Zoo officials say he’s one of the world’s oldest known otters.
"Male sea otters seldom live past 15 years, so Eddie's among the oldest of his kind," Nicole Nicassio-Hiskey, the zoo's senior marine life keeper, said in a statement. "He still loves to play hoops though, and he's definitely still got game."
On his birthday, which fell on March 2, as on most days, the slam-dunking otter delighted admirers by dunking a toy basketball into a poolside basket. As part of his birthday festivities, Eddie was also treated to a lobster lunch and was visited by the Portland Trail Blazers mascot named Blaze.
Sea Otter Basketball Video Went Viral
Though he’s spent most of his life at the zoo, it’s only been during the past several years that Eddie has been playing his version of sea otter basketball. Zoo staffers had trained him to dunk the basketball as therapy for his arthritic elbow joints in 2012. Zoo officials say a video about his exercise routine went viral, with more than 1.7 million views on the zoo's YouTube channel.
As Eddie enjoys his senior years playing hoops, he lives in a safe and comfortable setting, where he’s pampered by admirers and is well fed. When not dunking baskets, Eddie propels himself through an underwater tunnel to the zoo's cove habitat where other sea otters and harbor seals play in a setting that replicates the Pacific coast with tide pools, blowholes, kelp forests and rocky sea stacks.
Eddie the Sea Otter Playing Basketball
Almost Perished As a Youth
But Oregon Zoo officials point out Eddie almost didn’t make it to this idyllic environment, having nearly perished during his youth along the wild Pacific Coast.
Back in 1998, when he was just four weeks old, Eddie was abandoned by his mother on a California beach. When left to fend for themselves young sea otters rarely survive -- a cruel and common fact of nature along the coast.
But as fate would have it, Eddie was rescued and taken to Monterey Bay Aquarium's Sea Otter Research and Conservation program. Officials at the aquarium, about 60 miles south of San Francisco, say they’ve saved more than 700 sea otters over the past 30 years. A significant number of those otters are pups that have become separated from or have been abandoned by their mothers.
The hope was to rehabilitate Eddie and release him back into the wild. But after a while, it was determined he was non-releasable, meaning he wouldn’t be able to survive on his own.
So, Eddie was “loaned” to the Oregon Zoo in 2000, where he’s lived happily ever since.
Sea Otters Nearly Hunted to Extinction
Sea otters — listed as threatened on the Endangered Species list — once ranged along the north Pacific Rim from Japan to Baja California, including along the Oregon coast. It’s estimated their population once numbered between 150,000 to 300,000 animals, but prized for their fur, which is the densest of any mammal, they were hunted to near extinction.
When the International Fur Seal Treaty was signed and established protections in 1911 it’s believed there were only 2,000 sea otters remaining. Though their populations have since rebounded, the species is still listed as threatened in California and British Columbia.
Although now protected against trapping, sea otters are threatened by oil spills, fishing nets and infectious diseases. And life can be especially dangerous for young sea otters, with some marine mammal experts estimating only about 25 percent of pups survive their first year.
Eddie Has Some Young Company
As for Eddie, he now has some young company at the zoo. An orphaned sea otter now named Lincoln was brought to the zoo in December.
"The name is intended to draw attention to the fact that sea otters were once found off the Oregon coast in places like Lincoln City," said Amy Cutting, who oversees the zoo's marine life area.
"We hope they'll return someday as the otter population expands in Washington or heads north from California," Cutting said. "That would require protections, expansion of kelp forest habitat and reduction of toxins and waste in our waterways.”
People wanting to get more information about Eddie, Lincoln and the other creatures at the Oregon Zoo can check out its website at https://www.oregonzoo.org/