Updated: Sep 13, 2022
When I first learned about the pair of otters who'd set up camp in Evergreen Cemetery, I had OH so many questions.
My first question was, "Wait, we have otters in Southern Maine ponds?" Maybe this is common knowledge, but I'm just being honest about the first thought that popped into my head. Until my recent trip to the cemetery, I'd only seen otters on Nat Geo and thought they lived in wilder places like, say, the sea.
My second question was, "How did these Maine otters end up at the cemetery pond and are they safe from those snapping turtles that own the place?" Clearly, I knew a whole lot of nothing about otters. So, I started asking questions of those around me.
Here are just a couple of the answers I received, "The otters were taken by trappers and brought to the cemetery." And, "The otters came over here from Capisic Pond."
How? What?? Come again?
These answers were confidently delivered by kids, ten year old boys to be exact. They do often know more than me about wildlife, but I was skeptical of their information...and their sources. I figured it wouldn't hurt to do some of my own research.
I went directly to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife website at Maine.gov. Here are some facts I learned about the Northern River Otter:
- They live in and along rivers, streams, ponds, and lakes. They like to slide in the snow and can swim underwater for 1/4 mile.
- Otters are extremely intelligent and playful. They can make a game out of anything and have been putting on quite the show for observers at Evergreen. Real crowd pleasers.
- The carnivore eats primarily fish like suckers and minnows, but will occasionally eat crayfish and other shellfish (so maybe it's the turtles who should be worried here).
- Their size is 3-4 feet in length, nose to tail. They have waterproof fur and two layers of it. An outer layer of guard hairs and an inner layer of softer fur. The guard hairs protect the insulated inner layer of fur, and also capture air in a way that keeps the otters both dry and lighter-weight underwater. Bottom line, you don't need to worry about the cold, icy water in the pond. These furry friends are just fine.
- They are mostly active at night (nocturnal), but can be active during the day in the winter months (diurnal). They do not hibernate (another one of my questions).
- The mother gives birth to 2-4 pups in May or June. Although I did read on one site that the birth happens in April. Either way, you can bet I'll be over at those ponds in early spring, looking for adorable, fluffy otter pups.
- There are 13 different species of otters found all over the world, including North America, Europe, Asia, South America, and parts of North Africa...and yes, Southern Maine. Their habitats include both marine and fresh water: streams, rivers, lakes, ponds and marshes. Smaller marine otter are found in the Pacific Ocean, a.k.a., the sea.
- Otters are an important animal in Wabanaki culture, appearing as tricksters in stories and representing family clans.
My very favorite "fun fact", found at https://www.worldanimalprotection.us/ is this:
Otters do not make good pets.
Now there is an exotic pet trade happening out there, but it's not for you. Did you learn nothing from Tiger King?
Otters are also heavily threatened by environmental destruction. Aside from the fur trade, the largest threat to otters is the ongoing destruction of their wetland habitats due to urbanization as well as pollution.
In their last river otter assessment (in 1986), the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife estimated a statewide population of 19,000-24,000 otters. The species has rebounded with the Clean Water Act and improved river management. Still, otter were once much more abundant than they are today.
We did get to see an otter playing in the cemetery pond last Saturday morning, although I didn't get the best picture. It's about as clear as the famous Nessie photo...and looks a bit similar, come to think of it.
Maybe the Loch Ness Monster is actually a magically giant otter. Stranger things have occurred, like otters setting up shop in a cemetery. If you missed their flyer, here's what it said, "For some acrobatic and playful otter theatre, come on over to Evergreen Cemetery in Portland. You may see us, you may not, but we'll get you to spend hours here trying."
My goal is to get a better picture of these cute little tricksters. My other goal is to find out the real story behind the mysterious appearance of these cemetery otters. Let me know if you have any answers. I'll share mine when I do.