Unusual Yosemite Sight: River Otters

The whiskery creatures, spied at play in the Merced River, have not been seen in the park for a long time.

February 2016 is turning out to be all-otter-all-the-time 'round the Golden State, though we must pause here and ask, with true seriousness, if there is ever a moment when we're not cooing over the whiskery watery mammals? (The only correct answer is "never," of course.)

First Otter Bowl II at Long Beach's Aquarium of the Pacific caught our collective awww-ttention on Superbowl Sunday. Then news of a sweet orphaned pup making its way to Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, via the Monterey Bay Aquarium, choked us all up, in the most heartwarming sense.

Now word from Yosemite National Park has many a nature-watcher intrigued: River otters have been seen in a stretch of the Merced River, a sight that's quite unusual. So unusual, in fact, that observers are "digging to see when otters were last seen in the valley."

Biologist Rob Grasso, who works closely with many matters regarding the park, is pondering whether the drought, and "lower, warmer conditions" are behind the river otters' surprise showing in Yosemite ("fish die-offs and trout rescue" could be tied to this state of affairs, per Mr. Grasso, hence the otters moving along to seek new food sources).

While history, and the books, are consulted as to when the otters' ancestors last called upon the area, visitors to Yosemite in the coming weeks might keep an eye peeled for the playful ways of these jesters of our inland waterways, the twirly, tumbly river otters of California.

Of course, otters returning to Yosemite isn't the only thing that has famously returned to the park: A little girl mailed back two sticks she picked up in early 2013, a story that surely inspired many visitors to look but not take while visiting the celebrated wilderness.

One question, though: Did the river otters of the Merced River time their Yosemite entrance to another natural slice of amazement, the late-February "firefall" at Horsetail Fall? The waterfall "lights up," thanks to sunlight, in the weeks following Valentine's Day.

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We can't speculate the river otter network was abuzz about this popular natural wonder, but they've clearly arrived at an optimal moment in the world-famous national park.

Stay tuned for more adventures of the Yosemite otters...

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