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Zoo says goodbye to Eddie, the slam-dunking sea otter

Dec. 20, 2018, noon
Topic: Arrivals and departures
A sea otter with white and gray fur floats on its back in the water with its paws extended.

At 20 years old, Eddie was considered one of the oldest sea otters in the world

His hoops skills earned him worldwide fame throughout his golden years, but age finally caught up to Eddie, the Oregon Zoo's slam-dunking sea otter, who was humanely euthanized this morning following a decline related to his advanced years. At nearly 21, Eddie was considered one of the oldest — and most talented — sea otters on the planet.

"Male sea otters seldom live past 15 years, so Eddie was among the very oldest of his kind," said Amy Cutting, who oversees the zoo's marine life area. "He was quite feisty as a young otter, and we still saw that spirit come through during his later years. He got along great with our two younger otters, Juno and Lincoln, and was often observed wrestling and playing with them. But he was the elder statesman of the group, and they learned to leave him alone when he wanted to rest."

Orphaned as a pup along the California coast in 1998, and lacking the skills to survive on his own in the wild, Eddie was taken to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's rescue and care program for rehabilitation. Eventually, though, he was deemed non-releasable by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and in 2000 he came to the Oregon Zoo.

In 2012, Eddie was included in an article about elderly Oregon Zoo inhabitants, highlighting the ways keepers and veterinary staff care for animals approaching the end of life — but it turned out he was just getting started.

That same year, as therapy for his arthritic elbow joints, keepers trained the aging otter to dunk a toy basketball. A video about his behind-the-scenes exercise routine went viral in 2013, earning more than 1.7 million views on the zoo's YouTube channel and making him one of the most famous animals on the Internet.

Earlier this year, to mark his 20th birthday, Portland Trail Blazers mascot, Blaze, delivered a gift basket full of enrichment toys to Eddie's keepers and affixed a brand-new Blazers logo on the backboard at his behind-the-scenes training area, a small pool connected to the zoo's Steller Cove habitat via underwater tunnel.

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. Prized for their fur, the animals were hunted to the brink of extinction during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Conservationists are now looking at the possibility of reintroducing them off the Oregon coast, where they have not established colonies since 1907.

Considered a keystone species, sea otters play a critical role in the Pacific Coast marine ecosystem, promoting healthy kelp forests, which in turn support thousands of organisms and reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere.