The Stromquists are used to animal encounters on their acreage in upper Royston not far from Cumberland. Usually, that means cougars or bears.
What they thought was a house cat under a vehicle on a recent Saturday morning though turned out to be a different visitor.
“I first noticed it around 8:30, but I thought it was a cat, so I ignored it for like half an hour,” says Kate Stromquist.
She finally checked and was surprised to see an otter that seemed equally surprised by her and the family’s dogs.
“The dogs were going pretty crazy,” she said.
She and mom Sarah started taking some video and making calls to see what they could do.
They were surprised because their property is well inland from the ocean. In fact, the closest water is the Trent River and that’s still a couple of kilometres away. They weren’t even sure what the animal was at first.
“I actually thought it was a marten,” Sarah Stromquist said. “We live in a rural area. We’re used to animals.”
They tried contacting a conservation officer on the Saturday morning but had no luck, so they called MARS Wildlife Rescue, which recommended keeping the dogs restrained, then banging on top of the car to flush it out from underneath. Sure enough, the otter scampered off down the road and into the bush.
“We didn’t want it to come barreling out at us. It was kind of scared,” Sarah said. “He didn’t quite know where to go.”
Rachel Nelson, an otter expert with the Vancouver Aquarium, said otters in B.C. break down into two types. Sea otters live in the ocean, only ever coming ashore briefly, such as when they are giving birth. Their back feet are webbed, like flippers, as an adaptation to the marine environment.
River otters can live in freshwater environment and do tend to spend more time on land. They are distinguished by the more typical back legs that would be found on related animals like weasels.
“Their hind legs do have paws,” Nelson said. “They’re actually very adaptable to being on land, being in the water. They usually are around water.”
She recounted the story of a well-known river otter in Vancouver that attracted a social media following a couple of years ago for its excursions to hunt for koi in a pond at a popular public garden in the city.
“If they find a really good food source, they might be sticking around somewhere unusual,” she said.
While otters do not generally pose a danger, Nelson added people should keep a healthy distance, as the animals can become defensive, like many wild creatures, if protecting their young. Most of the time, an otter will simply be passing through an area, but if someone thinks the animal is injured or is regularly showing up at a place it should not, the person can contact a local wildlife association to respond.