I saw my first River Otter in the park on Tuesday. An occasional flash of silver and a big moving shape at the base of the Open Circle Viewpoint caught my eye from a distance. Coming closer, I saw that the shape was an otter, and the bright flash was a dead fish about a foot long that the otter was feeding on. When it was full, the mammal chewed off and discarded the fish tail and went for a swim. It circled around for a few minutes and then took off under water, probably southward.
Photographer Phil Rowntree got a picture of an otter in Aquatic Park a few weeks ago, but to my knowledge this is the first one seen in Cesar Chavez Park. The animal appeared big, muscular, and very active.
The sight made me look up otters on the web. The long tail on this animal marked it clearly as a river otter (Lontra canadensis) and not the more familiar sea otter (Enhydra lutris) on display at the Monterey Aquarium. River otters, despite their name, inhabit salt water coasts as well as fresh water rivers and lakes. They swim belly down and have four webbed feet, lacking the hand-like front feet of the sea otter. Sea otters mostly eat sea urchins, clams, mussels and crustaceans, and relatively few fish. River otters, like this one, mostly eat fish, but aren’t finicky and will eat whatever’s available and not too big or fast for them to catch. Unlike sea otters, river otters can move quickly on land, and have been clocked at 26 miles in one day. They can stay underwater for more than four minutes and cover more than 400 yards distance on a dive. Read more about these versatile and capable animals in Wikipedia.