The river otter is a symbol or totem to the Pottawatomie, who lived in the duneland area prior to European settlement and eventual statehood. These indigenous people viewed the river otter as one of their clan animals and would respectively turn their skins into pipe bags and quivers.
In Indiana, river otters received protection in 1921, but these efforts were too little, too late. Except for a few sparse reports, otters were essentially unheard of with the last known statewide sighting in 1942. In the 1970s, talks of reintroducing otters to Indiana started, but concerns over habitat quality stalled this effort. The pros and cons of reintroduction were discussed for the next two decades.
In 1995, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) began a reintroduction program for the river otter. Healthy otters from Louisiana were released into several watersheds of northern and southern Indiana. After five years, the otter population began to expand through natural reproduction with the river otter being removed from the state-endangered species list in 2005. Since that time, otters have been documented in more than 90 percent of Indiana counties, far surpassing the reintroduction goals. The population of river otters continues to expand.
The sight of a wild river otter swimming, sliding, or vocalizing is an experience everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy at least once in their lifetime. Thanks in part to the Indiana DNR, this opportunity is now a reality for Hoosiers willing to visit or navigate one of the state’s waterways. River otters are a common sight at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge where they were first reintroduced. The river otter has expanded north and west into the Kankakee watershed and have even been spotted in the Chicagoland area wetlands.
River otters are leaner, more agile, and much faster swimmers than beavers. Otters are also noisier, yelping and barking. They are more often seen at dusk and dawn, so an evening or early morning paddle is a great way to try to spot a river otter. They do not have set territories or distinguishable homes, but they do leave behind signs that they were there, in the form of latrines, piles of scat or poop. River otters are nomadic animals often traveling miles to seek habitats with clean water and healthy fish populations.
Otters have been recently spotted in the Beverly Shores area of the Indiana Dunes National Park and in Dunes Creek at the Indiana Dunes State Park. River otters may look cute and watching them play is fun, however, they do not make good pets. Like all wild animals, it is best to view them from a distance in their natural habitat. World Otter Day occurs on the last Wednesday of May, which is May 31 this year.
News by Friends of Indiana Dunes