Small town Beaver, Pennsylvania, home of Garrison Day
CCO Public Domain

River otters were considered extinct in West Virginia forty years ago. The amusing critters were once found in great abundance in the Mountain State, and across Appalachia. But by the middle of the 20th- century, unregulated trapping and loss of habitat depleted the river otter population.

River Otter Reintroduction Program

Today, river otters can be found in almost every county in West Virginia thanks to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources reintroduction program. In the late 1980’s the DNR released 222 otters into the Elk, Cacapon, Cheat, Dry Fork, Greenbrier, Guyandotte, Meadow and New Rivers

The river otters were caught in soft-catch traps throughout Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia. After being captured, they were put in a holding facility for two weeks before they made the journey to West Virginia.

river otters eating trout
Courtesy of the National Park Service
Courtesy of the National Park Service

During the otters’ time at the holding facility, they were given vaccinations and had several health checks before being released into the wild. Graduate students from West Virginia University kept a close eye on the river otters once they were released into the waterways. Their study revealed that the otter population is now thriving. As the river otters’ numbers began to climb, the adventurous animals began to move throughout watersheds where the DNR had reintroduced them. In just 30 years the river otter has reclaimed its position as a member of West Virginia’s wildlife.

With a Little Help From Their Friends

The otter population has rebounded so well that in 2011, the DNR reinstated a trapping season. Trappers are only allowed to bag one otter per year. Many trappers want to see the allowable bag count increase, but the DNR worries that this will harm the population drastically. Until DNR officials are sure, the river otter can survive an increase regulations will remain the same.

River otters are protected under the Endangered Species Act and remain on the list because their habitats are easily compromised. If waterways become polluted, the chemicals, petroleums, and other contaminants can quickly threaten otters across broad areas.

Today people across the Mountain State have become accustomed to seeing river otters and their playful, charismatic demeanors. But River Otters are just like any other wild animal and are territorial and unpredictable, so they are best viewed from a safe distance.

Just ask the two men who were bitten on Dunkard Creek in Monongalia County when an otter climbed into their canoe!


Here’s the Rundown on River Otters

  • River otters are part of the weasel family.
  • Though they love to play with others, they are solitary creatures.
  • Males and females do not associate except during mating season.
  • Otters can hold their breath for up to eight minutes.
  • Their eyes are adapted for underwater vision, so when they are out of the water, they are nearsighted.
  • When they are on land, they rely on their sense of smell, touch, and hearing to get themselves around.
  • A river otter’s tail gives it balance when it is on land, and they can run up to 18 mph.
  • Otters are territorial and mark their territory with feces to warn off other animals.

For more information about these “otterly” amazing creatures visit the National Wildlife Federation website

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