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You Otter Know: The Difference Between Sea and River Otters


By Deanna Lynch/USFWS


Photo: River otter or sea otter? Check out our handy identification cards below and test your otter expertise with the answers at the end of this blog.

As a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Lacey, Washington, I answer all kinds of wildlife-related questions.  Every spring and summer, I receive numerous phone calls and emails from throughout the Puget Sound area requesting that I come get a sea otter out from under a house, off a boat, or off a deck.  Usually this critter is making a very large mess and it stinks. 

My general response is to ask a few basic questions,  then explain that this critter is really a river otter, not a sea otter, and they will need to inquire with their local animal services to get assistance with encouraging the river otter to relocate.


Just because they are called river otters, doesn’t mean they only occur in a river or fresh water.  All along the West Coast, rivers otters can be found swimming and foraging in the near-shores of the Pacific Ocean, including the Puget Sound. In Washington, sea otters primarily live on the outer coast between Makah Bay and Grays Harbor, but we get occasional sightings in the Puget Sound.


So, can you tell the difference? Test yourself on these otter photos below and get more info here:

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A bird that once numbered in the billions, the Passenger Pigeon became extinct one hundred years ago in 1914 with the death of Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon in captivity.
Once There Were Billions is our upcoming exhibit about the many species of bird that have gone extinct. It will feature many images from the Biodiversity Heritage Library, like this illustration of the Passenger Pigeon from Audubon’s The Birds of America (1842). 

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