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Five Facts You Otter Know

At CodeBlue BC all critters fascinate us. None, however, are more otterly charming than BC’s two kinds of otters. 

Sea otters, Enhydra lutris, are the cute ‘uns that cradle their babies on their bellies as they float on their backs, or hold hands in floating “rafts” of 20 or more animals.

Sea otters, however, are nothing like Lontra Canadensis–the river otters of our watersheds. River otters are playful creatures, who frolic, play fight, and toboggan down snowy or muddy slopes. They’ve also earned their bad-boy rep as opportunistic rogues.

Don’t believe us? Take the Grand Theft Otter case, as CBC dubbed it. A brazen river otter repeatedly snuck into the Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Classical Garden in Vancouver in 2018. Before staff could block its access, it scarfed down 11 of the garden’s precious koi fish.  

In the Nechako River in 2020, the wily weasel-like critters set back efforts to help endangered white sturgeon. Some 1,000 juvenile white sturgeon released by a Vanderhoof hatchery mysteriously vanished. A UNBC graduate student solved the puzzle: using a scanner, he found their identification tags from the fish in otter feces. 

Young otter delinquents forced the closure of another conservation project, in Victoria’s Colquitz River in 2021 – by using the salmon-counting trap as an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Not all river otters are so smart. In Comox in 2022 one animal, who regularly swam in a backyard pool, jumped in one day to find the pool emptied of water, and became trapped. People who spotted its plight had to build it a log bridge to help it escape.

Occasionally otters can be downright mean. They have been reported attacking and drowning dogs-and then eating them. Attacks on people are rare, but in 2013 one attacked a swimmer in Greeny Lake in the South Cariboo, leaving nine deep bites in her leg before other people rescued her.

"What's for lunch, mom?" might be on this baby's mind. Photo credit Pixabay, Creative Commons


Five facts about River Otters:

  1. Relatives of weasels, river otters are mostly landlubbers. They do spend up to ⅓ of their time in fresh or ocean water, swimming on their bellies–but unlike their sea otter cousins, river otters come ashore to dine and den. 
  2. Once threatened by over-harvesting by fur trappers and water pollution, river otter populations in BC are currently stable or increasing, according to Nature Conservancy Canada. They need clean aquatic habitat to survive, and their range in BC includes inland wetlands, lakes, rivers, rocky coastal shorelines, and estuaries. 
  3. River otters are opportunistic squatters, often taking over the dens of other creatures like beavers, and sometimes making homes under people’s houses, according to DFO. Females birth and raise their offspring without help from the adult males, in litters of from one to six kits. After the kits are mobile the family reunites, and can stay together for a year or so.
  4. The diet of river otters includes fish, shellfish, amphibians, insects, and the occasional small mammal or bird. In turn, river otters are sometimes eaten by grizzly bears, bald eagles, and coyotes, according to the Sierra Club.
  5. River otter males can grow to 14 kilograms–as big as a medium-sized dog. They have claws on all four of their webbed feet, a powerful, long and tapered tail, and a transparent inner eyelid to protect their eyes while swimming (called a nictitating membrane).


Photo credit, top image: Creative Commons 2.0, Dmitry Azovtsev

A litter of young otters plays on a river in the Pacific Northwest in this video.

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  • Deborah Jones
    published this page in Stories 2024-05-15 12:21:22 -0700