You “Otter” See These Guys
By Lani Gering
You “Otter” See These Guys
While we usually rely on our good pal, fellow sailor and fellow writer and SpinSheet editor Molly Winans for information in this column, I just really wanted to get a piece in this section about the otters at the Calvert Marine Museum. I have been enthralled with them since my first meeting with the original “Bubbles” and “Squeak” many years ago. For the past year or so, every time I saw an otter post on my Facebook page I made a mental note to myself “the OTC needs to write about these guys”. Finally, I got in touch with Perry Hampton, Calvert Marine Museum’s Curator of Estuarine Biology, and we made a play date with Chessie-Grace (3 year old female), Calvert (3 year old male) and Chumley (16 year old male). It was actually a lunch date since I was lucky enough to see them during one of their feedings.
One of the benefits of writing about these creatures is that you get treated to the behind the scenes areas of their living space. It really is amazing what has to happen to make sure that these three stay happy and healthy. I really wish I had taken a photo of all of the beach towels that they have stacked up for these three to use – it was pretty impressive. Their inside space includes plastic igloos that they can retreat in to and plenty of items to play with as well as a beach towel or two. They are kept to a fairly strict schedule for feedings and are examined regularly by a veterinarian to make sure that they maintain good health. They are free to roam between the outside and the inside enclosures at will but there is no human contact with them other than feeding time. So….there is no petting them or volunteering to swim with them – I asked.
Perry introduced me to Spencer Kessinger who is currently interning in the Estuarine Biology Department and she gave me the lowdown on what was being served for lunch. It sounded a little fishy to me…..sorry, bad pun. Anyway, these three furry critters eat 3 times a day and consume about 45 fish EACH per day in addition to some frozen treats that have shrimp, fruit and vegetables that get tossed into their water filled playground. Feeding takes place through cutouts in the plexiglass of their indoor enclosure as opposed to tossing the fish at them like they do the sea life at Sea World. I did take note at how ominous their teeth are while Spencer was feeding Chumley and Chessie-Grace. Let’s just say you really wouldn’t want to get between them and their lunch.
Chessie-Grace, Chumley and Calvert are river otters so they are different than most of the ones you see in those cute Facebook posts. Those are most often sea otters who are two to three times the size of river otters and are the ones who float on their backs when at the water surface. River otters swim belly down and remain in that position when they are at the surface. You can also tell the difference by looking at their tails. Sea otters have a short flattened version while river otters have long and pointed tails. According to the Museums website: “River otters are well suited for life in and around the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, though often go unnoticed. In the wild, they tend to be more active during the dusk and dawn hours, their dark fur blending seamlessly into the background. During the day, river otters are often sleeping in their den or mud-bank cave. Healthy otters will generally avoid humans. In nature, otters are atop the food web with few predators. They will eat most anything including fish, insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans and even other mammals.”
The day we were visiting was also a day that the Museum was hosting a couple of summer camp groups. This meant tons of kids who were just as in awe of these three otters as I was and they were all over the place. It was almost impossible to get close enough to get good photos when we were watching them frolic around in their 8,000 gallon fresh water pool. This is probably the highlight of the museum tour and that is saying something because this place has a plethora of fantastic exhibits relating to marine life on the Chesapeake. This being said, if you have children that you want to keep entertained for hours this is the place to take them.
If you haven’t been to the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Maryland you are missing the boat – there is a boat ride feature at the museum as well but that’s a whole other subject for a column. A day trip to the Calvert Marine Museum and Solomons Island is well worth the jaunt. It is about an hour and a half from the DC metro area. Pretty easy to get there once you are on the beltway. Take Route 4 south to the Solomons Island exit and the museum is right in front of you.