Juno was found abandoned on California Beach in January last year by the Monetary Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation Program. No experienced adults were available to rear her causing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to deem her non-releasable leading to her being approved for a move to Oregon Zoo.
At 5 months old she first met 15 year old Themla.
“They made a striking pair,” said Nicole Nicassio-Hiskey, the zoo’s senior marine animal keeper. “Juno was much smaller than she is now, with rich brown fur over her entire body, whereas Thelma’s fur has turned white around her face and neck. Thelma’s elderly for a sea otter, but she’s spry — very energetic and playful.”
While she tentatively approached Thelma for the first time she was dining on a shrimp and clam breakfast.
“She didn’t react much until Juno came over and touched her rear flipper,” Nicassio-Hiskey added. “At that point, Thelma bear-hugged her and started sniffing her all over. She held Juno tightly and swam her around the pool and under the water. We shifted them to a different pool later, and Juno tried to nurse on Thelma, which was a great sign that they were bonding.”
“I am really proud of this staff,” said curator Amy Cutting, who oversees the zoo’s North America and marine life sections. “They believed they could accommodate another otter and give this youngster a home. With no room for her in the rehabilitation program, she did not have much of a future if they had not stepped up. Of course, it is difficult to watch Thelma and her partner, Eddie, grow older, but Juno is the beginning of the next generation of otters at the Oregon Zoo. I’m just so glad that our two older otters will get some time with her.”
Thelma and partner Eddie were part of a 2012 Oregonian article highlighting how keepers and veterinary staff car for animals who are getting a bit long in the tooth. Eddie became famous in 2013 when he starred in this video where he dunks a basketball. While this may look fun it is actually therapy for his arthritic elbow joints.
The pair have called Oregon home since 2000. They were both rescued along the coast of California in 1998 after being abandoned as pups. Initially they were undergoing rehabilitation but were deemed non-releasable by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who loaned them to the Oregon Zoo.
Sea Otters are an endangered species which could once be found across the Pacific from Japan to California. Aggressive fur-trapping campaigns in the late 1800s and early 1900s saw numbers reduce from 150,000 to 300,000 to 2,000 in 1911.
While protected from trapping these otters are still facing threats such as oils spills, fishing nets and infectious diseases. It is thought that in the past 30 years 50 percent of otters have disappeared.
Photo Credit: Oregon Zoo