This should have been a happy story. After all, who doesn’t love a rollicking river otter?
Having wanted since forever to see an otter in the wild, I at last lived long enough to actually spend some time with one. In the course of an hour, one afternoon in the intertidal estuary of a North Coast river, I watched fascinated as one of nature’s sleekest creatures worked through its bag of behaviors to my personal delight. Appearing equally comfortable in water as on land, the otter impressed with its surefire skill at scooping tasty sculpins out of the murky tidewater. Its glistening chompers, sharply visible in the video, told the rest of this dinnertime encounter — contrary to the cuddly, cartoonish characters that permeate human perception of otters, the sight of those flashing pearly whites firmly dissuaded me from ever even dreaming about petting one.
Thus so visibly and vibrantly full of life, this otter could not have known how near to hand death waited.
Reviewing my footage, I noticed something I’d missed in the field — a pair of cut sticks criss-crossing the mouth of a small tributary suddenly looked ominously unnatural to me. A return to the site quickly confirmed my fear — the sticks were stakes being used to hold a steel trap in place. With just a bit of polite investigation in the small community nearby, I was able to learn, several weeks later, that a well-known local trapper had proudly succeeded in killing multiple otters at this site.
Per statistics gleaned from a quick internet search, the average price that a modern-day trapper might hope to be paid for killing a river otter (with emphasis on “hope to be paid,” as the fur market is reportedly so dismal for sellers, the majority of otter pelts offered annually for sale are never actually purchased) is $15.
Fif. Teen. Dollars.
It’s hard to fathom how living, breathing, beauty like this could be destroyed for the price of a pizza, when in so many ways, it’s worth so much more alive. By any modern measure, this should have been a happy story. And I can’t begin to express my sorrow — as a human being — that it’s not.