The River Otter is a mammal you might be surprised to spot in salt water. From its name, you'd expect to see this weasel family member only in rivers, but it's at home in salt water too. Along Washington's ocean coast there's the much larger Sea Otter, but the River Otter's the one to look for around Puget Sound, where it occurs in many places.
Including the long tail that propels it through the water, the River Otter grows to 4 feet and over 30 pounds. With a streamlined shape, nostrils that close underwater, and sensitive whiskers for feeling its way and catching prey in murky water, River Otters are perfectly adapted for the life they lead.
This otter dens in driftwood piles, boulder crevices, or among tree roots. It readily makes itself at home under beachfront buildings too. The den is where the young are born and rest for the few hours each day they're not out hunting and playing.
On the otter's menu, fish are the most important item, and they'll dive 60 feet deep to catch them. They like crabs too and eat mussels, shrimp, and even young seabirds when they have the chance.
River Otters were once common across most of the United States. They still are in Washington, but many other states are making great efforts to restore them after trapping and habitat loss took a toll. In Puget Sound, shoreline development and water pollution threaten these creatures we so enjoy seeing in the wild. You can help River Otters by keeping shorelines natural and avoiding sending chemicals to the Sound when you change your oil, maintain your yard, or wash your car.