E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia

Lontra canadensis (Schreber, 1777)
River Otter
Family: Mustelidae

© Fred Lang  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #1525)

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Distribution of Lontra canadensis in British Columbia.
(Click on the map to view a larger version.)
Source: Map courtesy of the Province of British Columbia (2008).

Species Information


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). Behaviour

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.


Global Distribution

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)

Status Information

Origin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
NativeS5YellowNot Listed
BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

Additional Range and Status Information Links

Additional Photo Sources

Species References

Hatler, David F., David W. Nagorsen and Allison M. Beal. 2008. Carnivores of British Columbia. Royal BC Museum Handbook, Victoria.

General References

Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2019. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 2020-05-30 12:00:46 PM]
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