Healthy otters mean healthy rivers!

By Meghan Overdeep
September 23, 2020
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What’s not to love about river otters? To start, they’re cute, fluffy, and shamelessly playful.

But their purpose on this Earth isn’t to just to delight humans. (Shocking, we know.) River otters also serve as a bellwether for the health of a river system. Healthy rivers beget healthy river otters, which means humans have a lot to celebrate when they thrive.  

And the people of North Carolina—a state that boasts an abundant number of river otters—have reason to celebrate following the results of two N.C. State University studies on the health of the Tar Heel State’s river otters.

“Everything runs to the rivers,” Chris DePerno, co-author of both studies and a professor in NC State’s Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology Program, said in a statement. “Everything on the landscape ends up in the water, and that is where otters live and eat. That is why they are an excellent species to investigate pathogens and diseases.”

The first study examined the toxicological effects of metals in the waterways, while the second examined the diseases the otters are carrying. While the studies unveiled some concerning information, both revealed that North Carolina’s river otter populations are relatively healthy compared with populations in other areas of the United States and Canada.

“Our study was designed to look at it statewide, and because of that we were really, really encouraged, because we saw really low metals in all of our work, and we saw really, really low prevalence of all these diseases,” DePerno said.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call otterly wonderful news!