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Otters raised by CROW released back out into wild

By Staff | Aug 26, 2015

Four otters were released by CROW Thursday on SCCF land on Sanibel. BRIAN WIERIMA

It will be entirely new life for four otters, which were raised at the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) from infancy to about eight to nine months of age.

The romp of otters were released Thursday morning on Sanibel, with permission to release them on Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation land.

The release went smoothly, as the four otters jumped into a branch off of the Sanibel River, curious to explore their new muddy and grassy digs.

There are still four more otters being nurtured by CROW and their release date is still pending, but will take place in the near future.

The otter gathering at CROW started with an orphaned female, which was brought into the hospital from Bonita Springs in February. Since it was the only one at CROW, staff called around to see if they could bring in more otters to make it easier for them to adapt to the wild upon their release.

The CROW and SCCF team which were present at the otters’ release Aug. 20, on SCCF land. They included (L to R): Kelly Sloan, SCCF Sea Turtle Program Coordinator; Willow Bender, CROW Senior Wildlife Rehabilitator; Rachel Walsh, CROW Asst. Wildlife Rehabilitator; Yvette Carrasco, Asst. Wildlife Rehabilitator;  Victor Young, SCCF field technician; Dr. Molly Lien, CROW DVM Intern; Janette Lopez, CROW Volunteer; Michelle Strachan, CROW Extern; and Jimmy Ferrara, CROW Extern.  BRIAN WIERIMA

“As mammals, they imprint on humans quickly, so we asked other places in Florida if they had any otters to give us and the Florida Aquarium did in the beginning of March, and Clearwater Aquarium also gave us a few otters,” said CROW senior wildlife rehabilitator Willow Bender. “We ended up with a total of eight. It’s the most otters we ever had here.”

A ninth adult male otter was added, as well, after being admitted to CROW after being hit by a car, but he was later sent to a sanctuary in Athens, Ga.

With the socializing of otters with each other securing the challenge of lessening the imprint of humans on them, which is dangerous to any wild animal, raising them and training them to hunt for their own food was what Bender and staff of CROW did in the months between them arriving to Sanibel and their eventual release.

“Every morning, we baited them to their shelter, so there was minimal human contact with them,” Bender said. “Most otters stay with their mother for one to two years (to learn hunting and how to live in the wild). So we wanted to make sure they grew to adult size so they can protect themselves from other otters and other dangers which they will face.”

CROW supplied natural enrichment to the infant otters and stimulated them with live food sources, such as fish and crabs, to teach them to how to feed themselves in the wild.

The Cape Coral elementary fourth and fifth grade classes helped sponsor “Momo” the otter, which was being cared for at CROW. The classes raised $200 to help in the care of “Momo”, who was released Aug. 20, on Sanibel. BRIAN WIERIMA

The search for food is very important for otters, since they eat at least 20-percent of their body weight, while hunting for food at least five to six hours out of their day.

What otters are most known for is their sunny disposition on life.

“They are always happy, that’s why people love them,” Bender said. “They are our most popular animal for visitors here.”

A specific baby otter even received some help from the younger generation in Cape Coral.

This year for Earth Week 2015, Cape Elementary wanted to help out a local organization, and CROW was their choice.

This otter enjoyed his newfound freedom. BRIAN WIERIMA

“I was contacted by Kennedy Bigsby’s fifth grade class and Jenine Brulliea’s fourth grade class to sponsor a patient at CROW,” said CROW education and Visitor Center Coordinator Rachel Rainbolt. “From Earth Day on April 22 until Monday May 12, students raised money to cover the cost of care for one of the eight baby otters recovering in the hospital. They all named her ‘Momo’.

“Students were willing to do extra chores around the house, pull from their piggy banks and even give up their birthday money to raise $200. Because of their efforts, one of our patients was able to have the care it needed to make a full recovery and release.”

Otters are known to live all over the United States, with 13 different species of otters identified. In fact, otters can be found all over the world, with the exception of Australia and Antarctica.

The most identifiable aspect between a regular river otter and a sea otter, is that the latter has a shorter and less muscular tail.

Although they seem playful and nice, they are still a wild animal, Bender said, especially if a person gets between a mother and her pups. Otters do have sharp teeth and will use their long, muscular tail as a weapon for protection.

But much of the time when humans come into contact with otters, confrontations are very rare.

With CROW releasing the otters in a group, the survival rate will increase, since they more than likely will stick together.

“If the food source is good, they should also stay around where we released them,” Bender added.

After the release of the second romp of Otters scheduled in the near future, the otter shelter will probably remain empty at CROW – with the exception of an aquatic turtle or two – until next year, when mating season starts up again.

“It’s a good time for repairs,” Bender said.

Without the advantage of having a mother to raise them and teach them how to survive in the great outdoors, eight otters’ chances of living well into adulthood have grown immensely, thanks to their stay at CROW on Sanibel.

To donate to CROW, visit their website at or call (239) 472-3644.