There must be dozens of tests one could apply to determine a river’s clarity, purity, and overall integrity. But among the easiest and most bulletproof is to ask: can this river support a population of river otters? Because river otters are an indicator species of pure water, you only need to spend a few evenings on the beach below the bnb or perched on the outcrop of bedrock a little bit upriver to answer that question in the affirmative.
We see river otters swimming or walking along the banks of the Smith often – on walks below the bnb but also on nearby hiking trails that skirt the water (the Hiouchi Trail or River Trail, for example) as well as from boats while drifting the river.
Summertime guests who hang out on the beach at dusk often report seeing families of otters swimming and playing on the opposite bank.
Take your time some summer’s eve and keep your eyes peeled for otters. They are here in high numbers.
The San Francisco Zoo has a nice write-up on otters to complete the picture. It’s posted here:
River otters are well-suited to extreme weather conditions, even frolicking in ice and snow. Otters often engage in many playful activities, including chasing their own tails, underwater wrestling, and sliding down slippery banks. Otters can tread water in a vertical position with the head and chest above the water, and when swimming underwater, often turn on their sides and back. This agile animal can reach speeds of up to 15 miles per hour when running on land, and will often combine running and sliding.
A medium-sized carnivore weighing from seven to 30 pounds, the river otter has a long, sinuous, flexible body covered with short, dense, water resistant brown fur. The muscular tail and broad webbed feet make the otter an excellent swimmer and diver, able to remain under water for six to eight minutes. The otter can close its nostrils under water, and uses the sensitive whiskers around its snout to help locate prey.
The North American river otter lives in Alaska, Canada and throughout the United States (except the dry Southwest) along streams, lake borders, estuaries, and even seaside coves, feeding mostly in the water. Otters live in dens they dig along the banks of waterways, building long tunnels to create underwater entrances. In California, river otters can be found in the delta region of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and Northern California rivers – Eel, Smith, Klamath, and Russian.
The river otter dines on crayfish, frogs, fish, turtles, eggs, and occasional water birds, rodents or rabbits. A member of the weasel family, the otter is an aggressive hunter, and not fussy about what it eats. At the Zoo they are fed a diet of fish, meat, vegetables and eggs.
Life span in the wild is unknown. Otters can live up to 23 years in captivity.
Males form dominance hierarchy with highest-ranking animals occupying favorable ranges. Territories are marked by scent and fights can take place. Scent also communicates information concerning sex, receptivity, and time elapsed between scenting visits. Adult otters have a variety of calls, including mating whistles, hissing yelps, deep nasal growls and a piercing scream.
Typically two to four pups are born after a gestation period of about 60 days , and will peep in the nest like chicks. Youngsters emerge from the den and begin to swim at two months of age, separating from the mother at about one year.
Status In The Wild
The river otter has become rare in many of its ranges. Trade in otter fur has declined due both to reduction in numbers of animals and the outlawing of hunting. Otters have suffered severely through habitat destruction, pollution that kills the fish they eat, misuse of pesticides, and excessive trapping.
Thanks to Oregon State Parks for the photo.