The River Otter is a semi-aquatic member of the Weasel Family about the size of a bassett hound that is easily recognizable by its long thick body, short legs and long thick tail (Hatler et al. 2008). The coat is brown, although the undersides are usually grayish.
Otters may have litters with up to five pups (average of three), and after weaning (at 3 months) they hunt and travel in family groups for at least a year (Hatler et al. 2008)
The River Otter is primarily a fish-eater, though it will also feed on bird, mammals, occasionally amphibians and invertebrates (Hatler et al. 2008).
Otters are mostly active between dusk and dawn but can be seen during the day. They are very playful and often used slides. They also often 'porpoise' (swim near the water surface, undulating in and out of the water (Hatler et al. 2008). We have watched this behaviour in the Squamish estuary on a foggy day.
River Otters are found in a variety of aquatic habitats, including marine habitats and freshwater wetlands.
The River Otter is found across North America and across Canada, although populations in the prairies and plains had declined by the end of the 19th century (Hatler et al. 2008). These populations increased in the twentieth century, however, they are still generally low or absent in the southern Canadian prairies (Hatler et al. 2008).
Distribution in British Columbia
River Otters are found throughout British Columbia, and occupy much of their original pre-European settlement range (Hatler et al. 2008).
Although there is no genetic evidence to support them, 3 subspecies are reported for British Columbia: 1) Lontra canadensis mira (most of coastal BC), 2) Lontra canadensis pacifica (mainland of BC east of the Coast Mountains, 3) Lontra canadensis periclyzomae (Queen Charlotte Islands) (Hatler et al. 2008).
River Otters are preyed upon by Killer Whales in our marine waters; while bobcats, cougars, wolves and coyotes have been reported to prey on them on land (Hatler et al. 2008)