I worked in the Grand Kankakee Marsh County Park for over three months before I finally saw the infamous family of river otters that had made a home sixty yards away from one of the park’s duck blinds.
Notice I say infamous, not famous.
When people think of river otters, they think playful puppy of the sea. Energetic, enthusiastic, torpedoing back and forth in acrobatic circles. Or hopping above ground with tiny, hurried steps toward prey (You might think urchins on the belly, but that would be a sea otter, not a river otter). Those images are all true and all practice for one thing only: killin’.
That combination of skills makes them remarkably talented predators. River otters were born to kill, and they kill well. Like several species, including house cats, river otters sometimes kill no apparent reason, especially if the food is plentiful and weather tolerable. Their extra energy is spent playing with one another in North America’s rivers, but also in tearing the shell from a snapping turtle, gouging out an alligator’s belly, or pouncing on a molting duck.
Several studies have also clearly demonstrated inter- and intra-species homicidal-rape and necrophilia are common among sea otters. Of course, river otters are a different species, and have not been subjected to the same studied scrutiny, but biologists are fairly confident this behavior is shared to some degree.
And attacks against their only natural predator—humans—aren’t uncommon either. In one recent case, a pack of 20 otters attacked a Singapore man, biting him 26 times in 10 seconds.