When I first started working at the Port, there was a series of alleged otter sightings in the Sitcum Waterway. Coworkers would come to my desk, excitedly pulling me to the window to see. Every time I went to go look– nothing. No otters. Not even a bubble.
I started to suspect that these “otter sightings” were an elaborate conspiracy to pull my leg.
But then a chance encounter...
As I was leaving the Port’s Administration building after work one evening, I came face to face with an otter in the parking lot. In my excitement, I ran back into the admin building, wildly swung open the doors and shouted, “There’s an otter out here!” Our receptionist glanced up from her computer and calmly told me that there are otters out there all the time.
But my excitement was not to be dampened. This was my first close (not actually that close) encounter with an otter in the “wild,” and I was going to enjoy my magic moment. I walked back out to the parking lot.
What I thought would happen: the otter would instinctually know that I was its friend. It would run toward me in slow motion, encircled by cartoon hearts and butterflies, as music played in the background.
What actually happened: the otter looked at me, hissed, went to the bathroom, then scampered off.
Not quite the magical moment I had envisioned...
But it was still a good reminder: although they look cute and cuddly, otters are wild animals. All wild animals can be dangerous when they feel threatened.
If you encounter an otter, don’t approach it. A good rule of thumb is to stay at least 50 feet away.
What kind of otter did I see out of the water?
A river otter! River otters often come onto land in search of food whereas sea otters are rarely seen on shore. Sea otters are exclusively found in saltwater, but river otters can be found both in salt and fresh water. If you see an otter swimming on its stomach, it is a river otter. Sea otters primarily float on their back. Sea otters are also much larger than river otters and have fluffier fur while river otters have much longer tails than sea otters.
Now that you know how to spot a river otter, you can become an Otter Spotter! Otter Spotter is a community science program that collects river otter sightings, compiles them into a map to inform scientists of their range. If you click on the sightings map, you’ll see a sighting at the Port!