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North Carolina Aquariums
Toward a greater understanding of North Carolina's aquatic resources . . .
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Do we have otters in North Carolina?
December 7 , 2004



Yes, there are river otters in North Carolina, and in recent years the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has reintroduced otters into watersheds in the western part of the state.

Otters are frolicking, fun-loving balls of fur, measuring 3½ feet long at maturity and weighing as much as 30 pounds. They are related to skunks, minks and weasels, and are meat eaters. They are considered top predators and will eat almost anything; fish, crabs, turtles, bird eggs frogs, clams, snails, crayfish, snakes, muskrats. Otters are a sign of a healthy waterway, as clean water is needed to support their food supply.

The largest populations of otters are found chiefly in the coastal plain, where sounds, estuaries, rivers, streams and canals provide plenty of food and ideal habitat. In spring they give birth to one to five kitten-size young. The helpless kits are born in riverbank dens or burrows. Their eyes open after about five weeks and the female cares for them about a year. In about three months they’re ready to leave the den. Otters have few predators, however they are trapped for their fur.

Otters are on exhibit at the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island, and the new N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores will exhibit otters when it reopens in spring 2006.

These aquatic acrobats can hold their breath underwater for as long as four minutes. They are taught to swim by their mother, and their streamlined bodies are built for subaquatic speed. Their fur is waterproof and valves in their nose and ears close to keep water out. Fast and graceful swimmers, their webbed feet and foot-long tails help propel them through the water at speeds up to 12 mph. Otters often create mud slides on banks, where they skim down on their bellies, chattering all the while.

Problems between otters and people are rare, however, when incidents do occur it usually involves otters doing what otters do – eating fish. This can become a problem when commercial fishermen, pond owners, or commercial trout produces experience fish depredation, ranging from otters eating pond koi or goldfish to extensive depredation in a commercial fish farming operation. However, it is rare that otters and people interact. Otters are quite secretive and generally avoid humans.


The N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island features an otter exhibit, and the new Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores will exhibit these playful animals when it reopens in spring 2006.