The North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) is a member of the weasel family. They are 3-4 feet long including their tails. They have a streamlined body, short legs with fully webbed feet, a muscular tail, and dense, short, glossy fur—all of which aid them in being excellent swimmers. They also have closeable nostrils and ears for swimming and foraging underwater.
Historically, river otter could be found throughout New York, but they declined due to unregulated harvest, habitat destruction, and water pollution. In the early 1990s, the river otter was only found in the eastern half of New York State. The New York River Otter Project helped bring river otter back to western New York, with the help of volunteers and DEC staff. From 1995 through 2000, 279 river otter were captured in eastern New York and released at 16 different sites across the western part of the state.
When and Where to See Otters:
- Otters are active year-round. They spend most of their time in the water, so look in or along the shores of ponds, lakes, and rivers.
- A good place to look for otters is at Mongaup Valley Wildlife Management Area in Sullivan and Orange counties.
Photo by Tim O’Toole, provided by DEC