Living in a forest with a stream meandering through your yard, you’ll see plenty of wildlife. Over the years, I have received supervisory assistance in cleaning the garden, planting in the garden, and hanging outdoor holiday decorations from local aquatic mammals such as beavers and muskrats. .
I recently spotted a new breed of shaggy adviser I’ve never seen before in the creek — an otter!
In Ohio, the otter (Lontra Canadensis) has disappeared since the early 1900s due to habitat loss and uncontrolled trapping. They were reintroduced to eastern Ohio in 1986 by the Wildlife Division of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The Grand River in Trumbull County is one of his four locations where sea otter reintroductions have taken place.
Populations grew so quickly that the otter was removed from Ohio’s endangered species list in 2002. Otter trapping began in 2005 and his 2006 season in a limited area, but is now statewide.
State wildlife researchers use several techniques to estimate sea otter populations. Bridge surveys at designated bridges include walking the riverbank 300 meters in each direction from the bridge looking for droppings, footprints, dead fish and latrines.
Reported sea otter sightings, harvest information and incidental encounters also help provide data on the state’s otter population. Ohio has an estimated 6,500 sea otters, according to the ODNR Wildlife Division.
How can I tell if the animal I see swimming in the water is an otter and not the beavers or muskrats that are common in my streams and ponds?
Whereas beavers and muskrats swam with their heads low in the water and dived smoothly, sea otters stuck their heads out of the water at a more upright angle and launched upwards before sluggishly diving into the water. He also swam much faster than his two other mammals, holding his head up before diving many times.
Picking up the binoculars and looking at him in more detail, I could see that his body was long and smooth, in contrast to the beaver’s more squat body, which is closer in size to an otter than a muskrat.
Finally, seeing a long, tapering tail rather than a flattened oval was my key to identification.
Excited to see this new animal in my stream. It will be interesting to see if he continues to hang out here or is just testing the waters. It can alter the balance of the land, potentially affecting the number and composition of other species.
For now, I’m going to study the otter tracks and droppings, and do a bridge survey in the mud and snow by the creek. I hope to observe more and take some decent photos.
Learn more about otters here in Ohio at http://go.osu.edu/ohiootter.
For more information on Ohio’s other wildlife, visit http://go.osu.edu/mammalguide.
Cubick is a Master Gardener Volunteer at The Ohio State University Extension in Mahoning County.