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'Curious and charismatic' Zhoosh dies at Duluth's Great Lakes Aquarium

The death of one of the Great Lakes Aquarium's two river otters over the weekend saddened aquarium staff -- but apparently not the surviving otter. "She almost acts like she's celebrating now," curator Heidi Nelson said of Anang, a 16-year-old fe...

Zhoosh
Zhoosh swims in the otter exhibit at the Great Lakes Aquarium in December 2007. Zhoosh, who came to the aquarium in September 2000, was discovered dead early Saturday. (2007 file / News Tribune)

The death of one of the Great Lakes Aquarium's two river otters over the weekend saddened aquarium staff -- but apparently not the surviving otter.

"She almost acts like she's celebrating now," curator Heidi Nelson said of Anang, a 16-year-old female. "She has more energy now than she has had."

The aquarium's male otter, 13-year-old Zhoosh, was discovered dead early Saturday morning, said Allison Iacone, aquarium spokeswoman.

Although official cause of death awaits reports from the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center, the preliminary cause appears to be gastrointestinal disease, Iacone said in a news release.

Both Zhoosh and Anang were orphaned pups who came to the aquarium in September 2000, a couple of months after the facility opened. They were given Anishinabe names: Zhoosh, short for Zhooshkwajiwe, means "let's go sliding," and Anang means "star."

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The otters have been star attractions at the aquarium, Iacone said, and even more so after their hidden talent as artists surfaced. The otters make splotches of paint on cardstock, and the aquarium sells their better works in its gift shop. After a News Tribune story about the artistic otters last October, the aquarium experienced a run on their paintings, Iacone said.

Zhoosh was the less prolific of the painters, though.

"Some days he loved it and some days he didn't," Iacone said. "If (the keeper) put purple paint down, he would really respond to that."

The aquarium's news release called Zhoosh a "curious and charismatic otter" who would often play tag with staff, push plums around the exhibit, and was known for sleeping with a toe in his mouth.

When the otters were young they played together and snuggled, Nelson said. But in recent years, the relationship was a one-way street.

"Zhoosh liked to be around Anang and would try to snuggle with her," Iacone said. "You could tell she was not into it."

She was even more aloof toward Zhoosh after he became ill, Nelson said.

Otters in captivity can live 20 years or beyond, Iacone said. But Anang, Nelson said, is showing signs of age and is a bit arthritic.

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Nelson will send word among otter experts and wildlife rehabilitators that the aquarium is looking for a pair of otters, preferably young, she said. Quite often orphaned otters are available, and the only cost to the aquarium would be for transportation.

Anang wouldn't tolerate new playmates, she said, so when a new pair is introduced, she'll go into retirement in the aquarium's quarantine area.

Nelson, who has been with the aquarium for more than 10 years, hasn't had to look for replacement otters before. She's not sure how long it will take.

In any event, there won't be another Zhoosh, Iacone said.

"We'll never be able to replace Zhoosh because he was quite the guy."

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