An Otter Learns to Play Therapeutic Basketball at the Oregon Zoo

Zookeepers show that it is possible to teach an old otter new tricks

A rescued sea otter named Eddie is keeping spry by playing basketball at the Oregon Zoo. Eddie is turning 16 this year—a ripe old age for otters, which normally live around 15 to 20 years. Recently, Eddie began developing arthritis in his elbows.  To help keep him limber, the zoo keepers decided to teach the old otter a new trick: basketball.

“There aren’t many natural oppportunities for Eddie to work those arthritic elbow joints, because sea otters don’t use their front limbs to swim — they swim by moving their back legs and flippers,” explained Eddie’s lead keeper to the Weather Channel. “So training him with the basketball hoop was a way to get Eddie using those fronts limbs more regularly.”

Within a week of training, his keepers said, Eddie began making slam dunks in his water-filled basketball court. Eddie receives fishy rewards when he successfully shoots hoops, and his keepers say he almost always makes his shots.

Unfortunately, Eddie’s games are held behind exhibition doors, so visitors can’t see the otter playing basketball in person. “But the important thing to note with this behavior is that it actually had a bigger purpose, and that purpose was for healthcare,” one of his keepers said in the Oregon Zoo’s video.

More from

Chemicals in Water May be Messing with Otters’ Sexual Mojo 
Bag Full of Otters Recovered at the Thai Airport 

Sea Otter Hoop Dreams

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.