While many species may come to mind with the term ‘urban wildlife’, otters are not likely among the first to come to mind. Despite this, they can be seen in urban areas. In fact in three of the last cities I’ve called home, I’ve seen River Otters in two of them.
River Otters can be found throughout most of North America in fresh and even salt water. While River Otters may be common throughout the region, they are less common in urban areas. When I saw a River Otter in Eugene, Oregon along the Millrace which runs through town, nobody believed me until I shared the photos to prove it wasn’t one of the abundant nutria. It wasn’t the last time I saw that otter during the three years we lived there either. However, they are most common in waterways and watersheds which contain clean water with healthy fish populations. You can find them in estuaries, creeks, streams and rivers, lakes and wetlands. They are also found in coastal marine habitats, which is why many people think they have seen a Sea Otter.
River Otters (Lutra canadensis) are not to be confused with the similar Sea Otter, or other common urban aquatic mammals such as nutria. River Otters are about 4′ long while Sea Otters are closer to 6′ and rarely come to shore. River Otters have brown fur which covers a long, narrow body with short legs and a tail with a tapered end which is also covered in fur. They have a dense cluster of whiskers which are sensitive to movement and aid in their hunting in murky waters. Their toes are webbed and their nose and ears shut when the otter dives under water where they can stay submerged for up to 8 minutes.