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In otter news, a rare sight: Otters photographed in Lake Keowee

Greenville News logo Greenville News 11/2/2021 Tamia Boyd, Greenville News
A North American river otter takes a swim at the Pueblo Zoo in Colorado on Wednesday August 25, 2021. © Chieftain Photo/Zachary Allen A North American river otter takes a swim at the Pueblo Zoo in Colorado on Wednesday August 25, 2021.

It was an otter-ly amazing sight.

River otters, a species that's most abundant in South Carolina in coastal marshes and blackwater swamps, were spotted in the open water of the Upstate's Lake Keowee last week.

Oconee County photographer Laurie Metzger spotted the otters Thursday morning while taking photos of the lake, according to an Instagram post.

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Greg Lucas, a spokesperson with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, said it's not unusual for river otters to be in reservoirs such as Lake Keowee, but sightings of river otters in the wild are rare because they prefer uninhabited areas with clean, clear water where food is abundant, according to the South Carolina Aquarium.

Boats cruise through Lake Keowee on Labor Day, Monday, September 7, 2020. © MATT BURKHARTT/Staff Boats cruise through Lake Keowee on Labor Day, Monday, September 7, 2020.

"While their preferred habitats are probably the smaller creeks that feed into Lake Keowee, they can be seen in the bigger water, too," Lucas said in an emailed response to questions. "Otters can be found in all 46 counties of South Carolina." 

Charlotte Waters, sales manager for the Visit Oconee SC marketing organization, said there have been sightings and photos of otters near the Chauga River and Ramsey Creek at Chau Ram County Park, too.

Fun facts about river otters from SCDNR and South Carolina Aquarium

  • River otters can swim up to 12 mph and can run 18 mph.
  • An adult male weighs about an average of 15 to 20 pounds while an adult female is a little smaller.
  • They are sensitive to pollution and prefer clean water relatively free of human disturbance.
  • Otters can view their environment with a variety of senses, but their whiskers are very sensitive to physical sensations and are important in hunting.
  • River otters eat a variety of fish like suckers, carp and catfish. Coastal otters feed on clams while otters in the mountains eat lots of crayfish. 
  • Several otters in South Carolina have been captured and transported to West Virginia and Tennessee for restocking efforts. Otters historically existed throughout North America, but today their range is reduced, and the otter is absent or rare in several Midwestern and Northern states.
  • Populations are well established in every county in South Carolina and support a controlled harvest with proper licensure according to state regulations. 
  • Otter populations in most Southeastern states support a regulated harvest. Currently, otters have one the most valuable pelts of all of South Carolina's furbearing species. Price often has little to do with supply but rather is generally dictated by fashion. As fashions change, so do the demand and harvest effort for otters.
  • Otters swimming beneath ice for long periods of time are known to use trapped air bubbles to continue to get oxygen.

Tamia Boyd is a Michigan native who covers breaking news in Greenville. Email her at tboyd@gannett.com, and follow her on Twitter @tamiamb. 

This article originally appeared on Greenville News: In otter news, a rare sight: Otters photographed in Lake Keowee

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