We often see river otters (now called Lontra canadensis, but previously Lutra canadensis) along the seashore when we're out kayaking. Otters are in Beaver and Elk Lake, and Thetis Lake too, but it's easiest to find them in Cadboro Bay where the rocky side of the bay is a fine place for otters to get plenty of things to eat or climb ashore to find good places to sleep. Seeing otters in their quick nimble movements -- wow, that's one of the nicest things about paddling!
It can be hard to remind ourselves not to get too close to them. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans protocol for otters is the same as for other marine mammals like seals and whales: don't approach them any closer than 100 yards, and get out of their path when you see them on the move. When a human approaches a marine mammal, the animal can be upset and stop feeding, or it can spend a lot of energy getting away from the human and eventually back to its fellows. This is especially a problem for mother animals with babies. When you see on our blog John's photos of river otters or seals that look like we're close enough to pet them like a cat, our boats are nowhere near that close. John has a terrific lens on one of his cameras, and he's gotten really good at using it.
It would be nice to pet a river otter like a cat -- well, it looks like it would be nice! Smooth fur that's thick like mink, limber body, cunning paws... they look sleek and beautiful. But an otter is not a little housecat. For one thing, it's bigger, up to 14 kg. For another thing, it's a 14 kg weasel, not a sweet-tempered neutered tabby housecat! As cheerful as an otter looks sliding and playing, it's not a domesticated animal like a cat or dog -- biting is one of the proper things for an otter to do to survive among big smelly dangerous things, like humans. If you really want to pet an otter, go to the Nature Centre at Beaver Lake and get a good look at the otter that's been stuffed and mounted in a natural pose.
And if you need to know what an otter bite feels like, try reading this article on the CBC's website about a woman who was swimming near an otter in a lake this summer. Ow!