River Otters In The Valley

August 31, 2017

It’s early in the morning at the Beaver Marsh in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The sun is barely popping over the horizon when—splash—there’s movement in the lily pads! A sleek otter slides lazily through the water. You watch for a few minutes before he moves on, enjoying the warmth of the sun and looking for a cool spot to spend the day.

The return of river otters to CVNP is a remarkable sign of the park’s environmental health. Visit the Beaver Marsh and other wetland areas late this summer for a chance to spot one of these playful critters—we’ll show you how.

The Return of the Otters

River otters are native to Ohio and were plentiful centuries ago. By the early 1900s, however, they had completely disappeared from the state, due to habitat destruction and hunting.

In 1986, the Ohio Division of Wildlife began re-introducing otters to major rivers around Ohio. The seven-year project transplanted otters from southern states to thrive once more throughout Ohio.

By 2002, their population had rebounded so much that they were removed from the state’s endangered species list. Today, river otters can be found in two-thirds of Ohio’s counties.

In November of 2013, a pair of otters was discovered within CVNP boundaries, and we’ve welcomed them with open arms ever since. Because of their sensitivity to chemicals in the water, their return is a wonderful sign of CVNP’s rebounding environmental health.

River Otters 101

River otters are talented swimmers, with long, tapered bodies and short, sleek, dense fur. While designed for the water, they are also agile on land, and build their burrows close to water’s edge near rivers, lakes, marshlands, or similar ecosystems.

In the early evening and throughout the night, otters are very active as they hunt for fish and other aquatic animals. In water, they’re so fast that they have few natural predators.

Otters are about four feet long, with dark brown or gray fur, a white “mustache,” and whitish cheeks. If you get close enough, you might be able to see their webbed feet, which help them maneuver expertly through the water.

The mink is easily confused with a river otter, but you can tell them apart primarily by their size: Minks are only about 1.5 feet long, with completely dark brown fur and a distinctive white patch under their chins.

How to Spot Otters in CVNP

Your best bet for spotting an otter in the national park is to get up early or stay up late. Otters are most active at night or at dawn and dusk, when most humans are away. In the evening, as we mentioned, they’re usually busy hunting. In the mornings, however, they’re usually a bit more laid-back as they enjoy the start of the day—or the end of their day.

Beaver Marsh is the most reliable place to see otters in CVNP, but they’ve been known to explore other wetland areas of the park as well. We suggest heading out to the Beaver Marsh early in the morning and setting up a quiet camp on the boardwalk. Make sure to bring your binoculars and a camera!

The most important thing, however, is patience. Otters are typically shy, so don’t expect them to simply show up and start gamboling about for you. If you are patient, though, you might just be rewarded with a glimpse of these magnificent animals.

If you’re lucky and snap a great photo of a river otter in the park, we’d love to share it! Send it to info@forcvnp.org with your name and contact information. Happy exploring!