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Superb swimmers by nature, river otters really like to play

By Staff | Mar 9, 2011

Two river otters, orphaned by their mothers, are currently being cared for at CROW. Staff veterinarians hope to release them back into the wild early this summer.

Although they may appear to be playful, cuddly and comical, a river otter would not make a good pet.

In fact, they’re downright unruly.

According to Amanda Radek, a University of Iowa graduate currently a fellow at the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW), who delivered an informative presentation about river otters at the Healing Winds Visitor Education Center last month, the fact that the semi-aquatic mammal is so wild is key to their survival in the waterways in and around the islands.

“Otters are very, very playful, which is why I think most people love them,” said Radek. “And about a month ago, I was really excited. Yeah! It’s otter season! But now that we’ve had some otters here, I’m kinda scared because they’re really messy.”

All kidding aside, Radek’s PowerPoint presentation included lots of information about the sleek, short-legged animal which inhabits a large portion of the United States, from the Gulf coast to the North Atlantic and Pacific regions.

Amanda Radek delivered her presentation on river otters on Feb. 24.

In 2010, several river otters were brought to CROW due to a variety of circumstances, including being orphaned by their mothers, attacks by other animals and distemper. Thus far this year, more than 10 otter pups have been cared for by the hospital’s staff.

“It’s hard work, it’s stinky work, but hopefully it’s very rewarding work,” said Dr. Amber McNamara, director of the clinic. “We really appreciate our students here who work with them.”

According to Radek, river otters will create a den anywhere a permanent source of food has been established and where water is easy to access. While some otters will dig their own den, it is not unusual for them to take over one that has been construct by another animal.

The otter’s diet consists of fish and other small mammals. “Basically, anything they can get their hands on,” added Radek.

Under the water, otters can remain submerged for up to eight minutes and dive down to 60 feet. Very agile swimmers, Radek estimated their top speed to be around nine mph. On land, they can run short distances upwards of 18 mph.

Adult river otters can grow up to three feet long and weigh approximately 30 pounds.

Although she discouraged approaching river otters in the wild, the communications major noted that they can sometimes be spotted in the waters of SCCF’s Bailey Tract and within the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

If an orphaned otter pup is found, Radek said to make sure they are in a safe place and away from danger, such as other animal predators. Assess the situation and, if you feel they have little chance to survive on their own, contact CROW for assistance.

“You wouldn’t want to have to take care of them yourself anyway,” she added.

For wildlife emergencies or to report a sick or injured animal, call CROW at 472-3644.

One of the orphaned otters at CROW auditions for a "Got Milk?" advertisement.