Otters in Our Backyard, Contra Costa Canal By Karen James
Sep 30, 2018 08:56PM
Mom and her pups. Photo by Karen James
Otters in Our Backyard
Story and photos by Karen James
North American river otters are popping up all around Contra Costa County to the delight of many. They have been seen in Hidden Lakes Park in Martinez, Turtle Creek in Concord, Heather Farm Park in Walnut Creek, and many other areas. Otters have been seen in the Contra Costa Canal and most recently in the canal near Boyd Road. Many routine walkers have enjoyed frequent sightings and update passersby of the otters’ whereabouts. Sightings of a mom and her two pups have created quite a buzz.
On August 19, Jeff Torqeuemada and Wendy Sparks came to the otter family’s rescue. The pair set out on their usual walk and was looking forward to an otter sighting, but within a quarter mile of their house, they heard the distinct cry of a baby otter in trouble. This was much further north than the otters had been recently, so they were surprised to find all three otters at the bottom of a small water fall that leads to an underground section of the canal (a place that does not have a gap, so there is no air). They quickly realized they were stuck.
Jeff and Wendy described the pups as being distraught and witnessed the mom attempting to carry the pups on her back and over the rushing water with no success. They contacted the water district and animal control for help. CCWD contacted the canal patrol, and within an hour, Jill and Shane from canal patrol and an animal control officer arrived. Together they worked tirelessly to safely rescue both pups.
Jeff and Wendy witnessed the rescue and explained that one of the pups was caught (gently, with a snare) and the mom retrieved the exhausted pup and took it to a safe place, further up the canal. She then returned but was unable to coax the second pup up and over the falls. Wendy explained, “Animal control lent us a ramp with a textured surface, but the pup just could not make it over to the ramp. A multitude of techniques was tried to save the other pup and we knew time was running out. It kept swimming under the grate where it was unreachable and its plaintiff calls were getting weaker. After almost five hours and one last creative attempt to entice the mom to use the ramp to guide her pup up the falls -- success!”
It is interesting that not much is known about this elusive member of the weasel family. Their exact numbers are not known, and very little is known of their behaviors and health status. The River Otter Ecology Project, based out of Marin, is gathering information on populations throughout the S.F. Bay Area to help shed light on an animal that not much is known about and their link to healthy watersheds.
What To Do If You See An Otter:
Don’t approach it. Observe from a distance.
Please don’t try to feed it.
If you have a dog, do not encourage them to investigate or bark at the otter. Otters will bite if threatened or attacked.
If otters feel comfortable around you, they will ignore you and continue about their activities. If they are uncomfortable, they will simply leave.
And last but not least, if you happen to see an otter, please go to the River Ecology Project’s website and click on the Otter Spotter Link. From there you can fill out an Otter Spotter Data Submission form.
We are so lucky to have these animals in our urban areas. This definitely means we are doing some amazing work at protecting our environment. Enjoy watching these fun and charismatic animals.