Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Return of the Otters: But Don't Tell Anybody

Otters have been seen off the Oregon coast. We're not supposed to tell anyone though, according to Sea otter sighting raises stir, questions Some biologists prefer the rare sightings be kept quiet in Eugene's Register-Guard.
The confirmed sighting of a sea otter in Depoe Bay last month generated wild excitement. The species, after all, was thought to have been extinct in Oregon for a century — even by wildlife experts.

But the creature seen lolling in the surf as he munched on a crab wasn’t actually the first confirmed sighting in 103 years. It was just the first one about which the media went and blabbed all over tarnation.

The people who knew about previous otter sightings had kept their mouths shut.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife biologist Roy Lowe knew sea otters had resurfaced in Oregon from time to time, despite the failed attempt to reintroduce a thriving population here in the 1970s. He just preferred that the fact be kept as quiet as possible.

“We’re aware of a number of sightings of individual otters over the years,” Lowe said. “We haven’t published those sightings.”

About eight years ago, we sat in a lovely cozy restaurant in Gold Beach and watched otters in the Rogue River. River otters, not sea otters, although the river otter hangs out on the coast, so I'm not sure exactly of the difference. I'm not a marine biologist, I just fantasize I'm one.

This secrecy from authority as to the otter's existence has another layer. Understandably, the news the otter is webbily afoot is to protect the otter from those who would do it harm. But I'm reminded of stories about the existence of creatures in areas where they supposedly don't exist: wolverines, Roosevelt elk, and Sasquatch, in Oregon, where the locals have long been aware of the existence of these creatures, because they've seen either evidence of their existence by way of tracks, smell, scat, etc. or have actually seen the creatures. Yet denial continued to come from the authority, who, in many cases, would not come to the area (s) in question to look for themselves. All right, to be fair, about Sasquatch...that's possibly a whole other area. The point is, people who live in an area, and are familiar with the flora and fauna, are aware of what's occurring around them.

Of course, all these creatures: otters (sea or river), wolverines, elk in unexpected places, and Sasquatch, are probably just owls, since that's really what people are seeing when they think they've seen something that shouldn't be there. And even if it is there and not an owl, shhhh...we're not going to talk about it, remember?

image source.

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