Fairly common along the shores of Southeast Alaska, the Alaska river otter is the same playful aquatic weasel found throughout North America. They live in freshwater systems and in coastal waters, denning just inside forest edge and foraging on the beach and close to shore. They average three to five feet in length and weigh 15 to 35 pounds.
River otters are agile on land and in the water. They can run as fast as a human, and on snow they can reach speeds of 15 miles an hour by alternately running and sliding on their bellies. They can swim about six miles an hour, and faster for short distances by porpoising at the surface. Otters eat fish, shellfish, shrimp, sea urchins and virtually anything they catch in nearshore waters.
Otters may live in close proximity to humans, but they tend to be wary. They are delightful to watch when foraging and will usually come ashore or climb on a dock to eat their catch. They will play together, wrestling, hiding and chasing each other on land and in the water.
What to Look for: River otters are smaller and darker than sea otters and much smaller than harbor seals. Like other members of the weasel family, they are slender and slinky. They may roll at the surface, but they don't swim on their backs like sea otters. Their dives are briefer than sea otters.
What to Listen for: Otters are vocal and have a range of sounds. They growl and whine, and when alarmed will snort a sneezing, "hah." They often call back and forth with a bird-like chirp when separated.