Hoop dreams: arthritic otter gets basketball therapy

Sea otters are awesome, and you don’t know the meaning of “animal cute” until you’ve seen one in the wild cradling its baby on its belly as it floats on its back. (In that position they also put rocks on their belly and pound molluscs on the stones to break them open.) Here’s a “senior” sea otter who was taught to play basketball as a form of therapy.

What I don’t get is the statement in the video that Eddie was “taken for voluntary X-rays.” Now that’s a smart animal!

h/t: SGM


  1. Posted February 21, 2013 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Decent outside shot – maybe the Knicks can use him for their playoff run.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 21, 2013 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      If not, maybe he could try out for water polo.

  2. Anne
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    I think she said he was “trained” for voluntary X-rays. I would suspect that the “voluntary” part is where the trained animal knows to lay still instead of having to be caught and knocked out for the process.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted February 21, 2013 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      Yes, I’m sure both of you are right. But still–“voluntary”??? More like “passive”!

      • Anne
        Posted February 21, 2013 at 9:01 am | Permalink

        Maybe they’re trained to hop on the table themselves in exchange for a tasty fish. It’s not that much different than telling a kid they’ll get a lolly if they stay still while getting a shot. The otters may not know what’s going on but they’re willing to do their part.

        • microraptor
          Posted February 21, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

          I’ve heard that zoos are increasingly doing things like that, training animals to do things like voluntarily step onto scales so their weight can be checked, open their mouths for dental inspections, and other, similar things. Apparently, it makes things much better for both the keepers and the animals by decreasing the stress on the animals: they don’t panic as much, so they’re less likely to attack the keepers or injure themselves by struggling, and when they feel more relaxed and at ease around the keepers they won’t attempt to hide any problems as much, so it’s easier to find and identify them.

          • Diane G.
            Posted February 21, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink


          • RedSonja
            Posted February 21, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

            They absolutely are! I’ve helped with training programs with sea lions, who will cooperate with tooth brushing, medication administration (topical and injectable), blood draws, xrays, and ultrasounds.

            I may have mentioned this here before, but there are videos on YouTube of keepers who have taught their hyenas to hold still for a voluntary blood draw from the jugular vein! It’s so much easier on everyone if the animal isn’t panicking, doesn’t need to undergo inherently risky anesthesia, and can be treated for minor things with little to no fuss.

            • microraptor
              Posted February 21, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

              And now that I think about it, I bet the training is a lot more stimulating to the animals than the normal daily routine in their enclosures.

              • RedSonja
                Posted February 21, 2013 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

                Yep. Since they aren’t spending their time foraging, they need the mental stimulation. The smarter they are, the more they seem to get out of it. I really enjoyed it, too!

  3. Posted February 21, 2013 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    “taken for voluntary X-rays?”

    I hear “trained” for voluntary X-rays.
    Just me?

  4. gbjames
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    If there is no free will can anything be voluntary?

    • Roo
      Posted February 21, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Good one james! +1

  5. Diane G.
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    My clinical biological opinion–Eddie is darling!

  6. AP
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Cuteness overdose.

  7. Fastlane
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Otters are the single cutest animal on earth, IMO.

    Except of course, for my cat. 😀

  8. Dawn Oz
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    I now have a sea otter as a role model for continuing my exercise – delightful. This will go viral.

  9. Larry Gay
    Posted February 21, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Is it self-evident to others why Eddie’s talent for basketball won’t be on display to the general public? I would imagine this would be a hit with the kids and help to expand Singer’s circle.

  10. Posted February 22, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    I made this video for the Oregon Zoo, and I can speak to some of the comments regarding training. The term ‘voluntary x-ray’ simply refers to the fact that Eddie will voluntarily place himself on the x-ray plate (for a portable x-ray that can be brought to the off-exhibit ponds) and hold still. He is then rewarded with delicious treats. All of the training I have witnessed is positive using a reward system. It is a stress free way to do check ups and x-rays since the animal willingly participates. It is a lot of work for the keepers since training is done daily – but it is also mentally stimulating for the otters. Win/win for everyone.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted February 22, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the explanation. I’m very pleased that all of you are taking care of this poor “senior otter.”

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