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Rescued sea otters Uni Suhi and Juno play in Steller Cove. ©Oregon Zoo/ photo by Shervin Hess

Playful 5-month-old meets Juno and Lincoln at Oregon Zoo’s Steller Cove

Visitors might notice more splashing than usual at the Oregon Zoo’s sea otter habitat this week. Uni Sushi, the rescued pup who arrived earlier this month, had her first meet-up with the zoo’s other otters — Juno and Lincoln — and the three got along so swimmingly they can now be seen together much of the time.

“The introductions went very well,” said Nicole Nicassio-Hiskey, the Oregon Zoo’s senior marine life keeper. “They just hit it off right away and seem to enjoy one another’s company.”

Keepers say Juno’s maternal instincts kicked in as soon as she met Uni — much as they did last year with Lincoln — and she hugged the young pup close and floated all around with her. Lincoln soon joined the pair, greeting them with a chorus of squeaks, and all three have been playing together since.

Visitors can tell the otters apart by their size and coloring. Uni is smaller than Juno and has rich brown fur over her entire body, whereas Juno’s fur has begun to turn white around her face and neck. Lincoln is brown all over but is much larger than the new pup.

Found stranded on a beach near Santa Cruz in December, Uni was brought to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s rescue and care program as a tiny pup. Unable to be paired with a surrogate mom, she was eventually deemed non-releasable by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The marine mammal care team named the pup “Uni Sushi” (uni is the Japanese word for sea urchin), in honor of the diet of sustainable seafood she and the rest of the sea otter family enjoy. Because of their high metabolism, sea otters eat about 25% of their weight in clams, crabs, shrimp, sea urchins, mussels, squid and fish each day.

Sea otters, once abundant along the Oregon coast, were hunted to extinction here in the early 1900s and have not established permanent residence in the state for more than a century. A few visiting otters have been sighted in recent years, notably in Depoe Bay in 2009. Though currently protected from hunting by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, they continue to be threatened by oil spills, fishing nets and infectious diseases.

Sea otters are considered a keystone species and play critical role in the Pacific Coast marine ecosystem, promoting healthy kelp forests, which in turn support thousands of organisms. To learn more about the Oregon Zoo’s sea otters and how to help protect the species in the wild, visit oregonzoo.org/discover/animals/southern-sea-otter.

As part of the Metro family, the Oregon Zoo helps make greater Portland a great place to call home. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, western pond turtles and northern leopard frogs. Other projects focused on saving animals from extinction include studies on polar bears, orangutans and cheetahs.

Support from the Oregon Zoo Foundation enhances and expands the zoo’s efforts in conservation, education and animal welfare. Members, donors and corporate and foundation partners help the zoo make a difference across the region and around the world.

The zoo opens at 9:30 a.m. daily and is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Call TriMet Customer Service, 503-238-RIDE (7433), or visit trimet.org for fare and route information.

 

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