There are certain things in life that make it impossible not to smile. A toddler laughing. A dog wagging like mad. An amazing sunset. And otters.
Who can possibly watch otters at play without smiling?
The Tennessee Aquarium has otters in their River Journey display. I have been to the aquarium at least a dozen times in the past year and a half. The otters have always been sleeping. Otters sleeping are cute, but not quite so provocative of a smile as when they’re playing. Discovering they were wide awake and having a ball on our recent visit with friends was quite a joy for me.
This might have been a great time to switch over to the video mode on my camera. But, alas, I keep forgetting it will shoot video. So, I have created a video from a series of rapid fire stills instead. I didn’t actually shoot with the intention of making a video, so there are gaps. The biggest gap is that I missed when they were swimming upside down. How is it that otters can swim upside down as easily as right side up? According to the National Geographic website, they can close their ears and noses. I imagine that would be a big advantage during graceful rolls and swirls through the water.
The first time I thought I saw a river otter in the wild was in Colorado. As it turned out, it was a beaver. When it smacked its flat tail against the water at us, I realized my mistake. In retrospect, a sea otter would be closer to the size of a beaver than a river otter, so I really should have known it was a beaver. Seeing a beaver was pretty exciting, but I’ve always wanted to see wild otters at play. So far, the closest I’ve come is when we saw river otters in a mountain lake near Mt. Hood in Oregon last fall. They were fun to watch, but we were a bit far away to get to see much besides their heads when they would pop back to the surface after diving for fish.
River Otters are one of the many creatures I envy. They are perfectly equipped for their lifestyle. They have all the special features they need to not just survive through cold winters and hot summers, but to thrive in them. They embrace their lifestyle with verve and frolic through life.
Of course, there are downsides. For one, they are apparently very vulnerable to environmental pollutants. For another, that warm, waterproof coat is something humans want to have. They had disappeared from much of the country as a result. Fortunately, through reintroduction and habitat management, they’ve made quite the comeback and are even considered a nuisance in some localized areas. However, there are still many parts of the country that have very few river otters. These must be the parts of the country I usually go hiking in. I keep hoping, though.