River Otters in the Marin Headlands
The San Francisco Bay Area was recently abuzz over a lone river otter in Sutro Baths, affectionately called “Sutro Sam.” Although Sutro Sam’s brief stint in the swimming complex ruins is now over, there are still plenty of other places in the Bay Area to see wild river otters. Rodeo Lagoon in the Marin Headlands is one of these places.
With the help of citizens, The River Otter Ecology Project (ROEP) studies these animals to better understand their role in the Bay Area’s costal watersheds. Their OTTER SPOTTER Citizen Science Project asks the public to submit any observational or physical data that can be used to document where river otters are in the Bay Area; photographs and video-recording of river otters are highly encouraged. Rodeo Lagoon is a site that this organization closely monitors due to high river otter activity. At least 5 individuals have been spotted in this location, likely a female with pups and a male.
Unlike sea otters, river otters spend quite a lot of time on land. They are great runners, rock and tree climbers, and sleep in dens. This versatility allows river otters to eat everything from crustaceans to other mammals, which can be seen in their scat.
Below is a QUEST video of a wild river otter scat dissection at Big Break Regional Shoreline.
Although river otters are not endangered, they are listed as a Species of Special Concern due to polluted waterways, habitat loss and being hunted for their fur. It can be difficult to spot river otters in the wild, but with the public’s help, ROEP has created an interactive map of Bay Area river otter sightings. Each pin details what was sighted and when, which may be helpful to optimistic hikers who would like to see them. If outdoor trekking isn’t your thing, there are a number of zoos and aquariums in the Bay Area that exhibit river otters, such as The San Francisco Zoo, Oakland Zoo, CuriOdyssey and this coming summer, Aquarium of the Bay.