Wild creatures among us: Otters

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Otter at Ronald Bog
Photo by Martin De Grazia
By Diane Hettrick

A man I knew who worked in a building on Echo Lake told me a story years ago about being in the building at 5am and seeing animals he didn't recognize leaping and playing in the water. 

We took the story to the Echo Lake neighborhood association and after a lot of research, identified the creatures he saw as freshwater otters.

Then, people who lived around the lake started telling otter stories. It's apparently one of those things you know about if you live there. 

My favorite story was the young man who was fishing off one of the docks. He was catching a lot of fish and thought it would be a great idea to keep them in a basket and put the basket under water.

When he was done, he pulled up the basket - and it was empty. The otters were probably delighted with the bonanza.

A rare photo of an otter out of water
running along the shores of Ronald Bog
Adult males are 4 feet in length and weigh 20-28 pounds
Photo by Martin De Grazia
I have heard many other otter stories since. 

Martin De Grazia lives on Ronald Bog and sees otters there regularly. 

They are very elusive and I have few local photos, so I am pleased that he was able to get a number of photos and share them.

Otters live in burrows with underwater entrances or hidden dens near the water. They spend most of their time in the water, hunting for fish, and other water creatures, such as crayfish. 

They are a particular boon to Echo Lake, which has the dubious distinction of being home to a species of invasive crayfish.

Otter at Ronald Bog
Photo by Martin De Grazia
Otters are opportunistic, though, and will follow any good food source. 

George Piano of Lake Forest Park told a story about coming home to find an otter fishing in his koi pond. She ran off, but not before getting a few of his prize koi. 

A few days later, she was back, this time using his pond to teach her pup how to fish.

George's home in Lake Forest Park has a steep ravine behind his property, which drops down to McAleer Creek.

Otters playing in the waters of Twin Ponds
Photo by Debbie Arthur

I think it's safe to assume that every body of water and every stream in Shoreline and Lake Forest Park has otters. This week, I received a photo taken by Debbie Arthur of otters in Twin Ponds. Kevin Urie reports they are in Boeing Creek.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife says that "In late fall, the pups leave to establish their own territories. During this time, wandering youngsters are seen far from water, traveling on land between lakes, ponds, and from one stream drainage to another."

Otters at Ronald Bog
Photo by Martin De Grazia
This is a partial explanation for the stories about otters being seen traveling across the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden in the Richmond Beach neighborhood. 

Since there are no streams or bodies of water nearby, I am still curious about where they are coming from.

It's also interesting to think that, aside from the occasional fish pond, the otters are finding enough fish in the lakes, bogs, ponds, and streams, to sustain life and breed.

This article was originally published January 11, 2016. Since then, Martin De Grazia has become the Otter Whisperer, apparently part of the otter clan. The otters stare at him but they don't hide and he is getting some amazing photos from Ronald Bog.


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