Sea otter Juno plays basketball to stay in shape
The start of the NBA season isn’t the only must-see basketball this month. Juno, a rescued sea otter at the Oregon Zoo, is swimming straight to the hoop — and she can dunk with the best of them.
Several years ago, zoo care staff trained the otter to put a ball through a plastic basketball hoop as a way of exercising her elbow joints. Until recently, her athletic exploits took place off-view, in a behind-the-scenes training pool.
Now, thanks to an assist from the zoo maintenance team, Juno slams it home in a custom-made hoop mounted to the rock wall of her habitat. Zoo guests lucky enough to catch one of her training sessions can see some exciting basketball action — no NBA Finals tickets required.
At 9 Juno’s still a relatively young sea otter, but moving her front limbs is a way of staving off stiffness and arthritis as she ages, according to zoo caregivers. Plus, she can’t get enough of the game.
“Juno loves to play basketball,” said Nicole Nicassio-Hiskey, the zoo’s senior marine life keeper. “She gets so excited whenever we bring the ball out for her training sessions. And she’s good too!”
Juno and the two other sea otters at the Oregon Zoo — Lincoln and Uni Sushi — are rescue animals, orphaned off the coast of California as tiny pups and brought to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s rescue and care program for rehabilitation. Unable to be paired with a surrogate mom, they were deemed non-releasable by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Once abundant along the Oregon coast, sea otters were hunted to extinction here in the early 1900s and have not established permanent residence in the state for more than a century. The zoo is helping to bring them back through a partnership with the Elakha Alliance, a nonprofit that’s leading reintroduction efforts.
To see a video of Juno playing basketball, visit bit.ly/otter-dunks