Zoo Animals

River Otter

North American river otter

Lontra canadensis

At the Detroit Zoo
The North American river otter family – Sparky, born April 2014 to mother Whisker and father Lucius – along with female Storm, can be seen at the Edward Mardigian Sr. River Otter Habitat. The 2,500-square-foot space incorporates indoor and outdoor living environments. A 9,000-gallon aquatic area includes an outdoor oasis, complete with a sandy beach, tall trees and a flowing stream. The indoor retreat features a waterfall and waterslide. Natural light pours into the rustic interior of the building, with exposed raw wood logs comprising the walls, evoking a handcrafted log cabin. Floor-to-ceiling acrylic windows provide visitors with dramatic views of the animals exploring their habitat, and underwater viewing allows even the tiniest of guests to get nose-to-nose with these charismatic creatures. Whisker in particular seems to enjoy interacting with visitors through the glass. She found sanctuary at the Detroit Zoo in 2009 after being rescued under a house in Washington State. Her mate, Lucius, was born in 2006 and arrived here in 2009. Storm was rescued from the bottom of a hill along Lake Michigan. Rescuers searched for her den and family with no luck, and she eventually found sanctuary at the Detroit Zoo in 2002.

The otter habitat is located across from the beavers on the northern edge of the Cotton Family Wetlands.

The river otter’s fur color ranges from white to gray, brown and black. The aquatic mammal has a long, cylindrical, streamlined body that sports short, dense, waterproof fur, profuse whiskers and short legs. The otter’s strong tail and webbed feet help propel it through the water, which makes it a great swimmer.

Once abundant in U.S. and Canadian rivers, lakes and coastal areas, river otter populations have suffered significant declines as a result of fur trapping, water pollution, habitat destruction, pesticides and other threats.

Fun Facts

  • The river otter can stay underwater for several minutes.

  • The river otter can dive up to 60 feet underwater.