River Otters in the Island Lakes

River Otter in ILC Big Lake
River Otter in ILC Big Lake

by Charlene Simpson

I got the news that there were otters in our lakes from IL homeowners Dorothy Poitra and Ledris Burroughs. I was skeptical. Perhaps the furry mammals they saw were nutria, an invasive rodent.

I needed to document the sighting so I ventured forth with my camera. I didn’t see any animals swimming in the Middle Lake, as reported by my neighbors. I went to the Big Lake, but I saw only mallard ducks, American widgeons and Canada geese.

Then a disturbance caught my eye – sudden ripples of water. I waited and then there was a second disturbance. A large furry mammal broke the water surface and climbed up on to the west spritzer platform which was not functioning at the time.

The furry, whiskered animal had something meaty in her forepaws. She proceeded to dine on her catch. This was my first clue to the animal’s identity. It was not nutria! Nutrias are herbivores.

River Otters in North Delta Pond
River Otters in North Delta Pond (image courtesy KF Horn)

How do I know the otter was female? I determined gender based on research and observation. After mating males depart and lead a solitary life. Females make a den, give birth, and are responsible for child rearing. Lee Burroughs reported seeing four otters passing from the Middle Lake to the Big Lake. Family groups are usually comprised of a mother and pups. Deduction: Our Big Lake visitor was Mom.

Jack Long, Eugene Open Waterways Program supervisor, is quoted by Palmer (2005): “Their favorite food is freshwater clam or mussel. But they also like fish, amphibians, turtles and crayfish.”

River otters (Lontra canadensis) have been seen in our area with increasing frequency. They have been reported from upper Amazon Creek and the West Eugene wetlands. In October 2013 Kermit F. Horn photographed otters in the Delta Ponds. Island Lakes resident Barbara Schomaker reports there is a den of otters in the north Delta Pond.

River Otter in Delta Ponds
River Otter in Delta Ponds (image courtesy KF Horn)

Otters once thrived throughout North America, but their pelts were sought relentlessly and trapping sent populations into decline. They became extinct in several states. In Oregon their numbers improved once trapping was regulated (Palmer, 2005).

River otters are sometimes mistaken for their larger seagoing cousin, the sea otter (Enhydra lutris). Sea otters are those cute furry mammals we associate with floating on their backs while opening clam shells with a rock. They, too, were nearly hunted to extinction for their luxurious fur. Sea otters are considered extinct in the wild in Oregon. The largest population in the state is at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport.

Sea Otter at Oregon Coast Aquarium Newport
Sea Otter at Oregon Coast Aquarium Newport

We cheer the appearance of otters at Island Lakes.


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