2012 – 7 River Otters – Lucky Fisherman

Love’m or hate’m – some of us wish otters grief for the mess they make under boat covers, but otters are the perfect design of both form and function. Evolution has really worked things out for this critter. An otter’s head is flat so it goes through the water without pushing a wake and inconspicuous ears don’t act like little funnels – and yet otters have extremely good hearing. Nostrils and ears close during submersion, but the broad nose takes in quick gulps of air as it surfaces. Along with amazing dexterity, the otter has a very delicate sense of touch for underwater feeling around for food. And those teeth? As you can see in my sketchbook, they have both large molars for crushing things like clam or crab shells, and like other relatives of the weasel-family, those wicked specialized front canines and secondary grinding carnassials teeth mean you wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end. I think they’re worthy of a sketchbook page.

It’s simply the most stinky, gooey gunk I’ve ever tried to wash off the deck. They hang out in most marinas and good anchorages, patrol beaches and I’ve even seen a big one stroll into an art gallery in Port Townsend and check things out. And these aren’t small either, ranging up to more than 30lbs and over 40” long. Females are smaller, but that’s still a pretty big critter. They make their homes in waterside burrows, usually with several entrances (exits) with at least one that allows the otter to exit underwater. Their predators, and good ones too. They’ll eat just about anything moving that they can get their teeth on – fish, crabs, shrimp – even an occasional dock cat. I don’t know if it’s true, but that was enough to keep our boat kitty onboard at night. I heard otters could come up below the dock and make curious little noises. When the cat leans over to check it out – wham-bam.

I watched the otters recently at the Seattle Aquarium while my photographer-wife Nancy was doing a photo shoot of the new sea otter pup. They went through an amazing ballet swimming exercise that allowed me to really study how they swim.

And how they sounded courting.

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