Sherpa Guides > Virginia Mountains > River Otter

River Otter

Historically, the northern river otter was one of the most widespread mammals west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and was once found over most of North America. The otter's torpedo-shaped body and tail that accounts for a full third of its body weight make it perfectly adapted to its aquatic habitat. But stream pollution, loss of habitat, and hunting and trapping pressure took their toll, and the river otter (Lutra canadensis) nearly disappeared from the landscape. Along with the beaver, the otter is slowly making a comeback in marshy areas of the Tidewater and Piedmont in Virginia. Now the state is attempting to reestablish populations in the mountains where otters have been absent since the turn of the century. State research biologists purchased 17 otter from Louisiana, equipped some of them with radio collars, and turned them loose in the Cowpasture River. The first stocking was in the spring of 1989. The otters took to their new habitat immediately and spread into adjacent watersheds. Although humans were the cause of their disappearance, humans may also enable the otters' return.

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