River otter seen in Detroit River believed to be first in a century

Eric Ste Marie was taking a normal morning walk until he noticed something furry bobbing its way toward the Ambassador Bridge.

Ste Marie, a 27-year-old University of Windsor doctoral student, is a curious outdoorsman. He sprinted to follow the creature along the Ontario shoreline and nabbed a video of its lanky body diving into the Detroit River.

The critter was too large to be a common muskrat or mink. Its long tail was tapered, not flat like a beaver’s.

That’s when Ste Marie and his partner, who had encouraged the April 26 excursion, realized what they had seen — a river otter, a species experts say was driven out of the Detroit area a century ago by pollution, urbanization and overzealous trappers.

“I was so excited,” Ste Marie said. “My partner and I were just giddy that we were seeing this otter, but we didn’t think it was going to be as big of a deal as it ended up being.”

Ste Marie’s video is the first documentation of a river otter in the Detroit River in a century, said John Hartig, a Detroit Riverfront Conservancy board member and former manager of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. Hartig wrote about Ste Marie’s discovery for the public television program Great Lakes Now.

River otters were extirpated, or made regionally extinct, from the Detroit area in the early 1900s after a century of heavy hunting and trapping, he said.

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