Your last time to see them revel in frozen precipitation until next year is tomorrow, FYI.
North America river otters are found throughout the San Francisco Bay Area in the freshwater river and creek systems. However, this wasn’t always the case. At the peak of the pelt trade in the late 1800s and early 1900s, populations of these vociferous, feisty water weasels were nearly wiped out as demand for their supple furs ballooned. Coupled with the destruction of their habitats, North America’s only species of the otter was at risk of becoming extinct up until just about five decades ago.
That couldn’t be further from the case, nowadays. The species — Lontra canadensis — is currently considered “least concern” in regard to facing extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature; most recent estimates point that the North American river otter’s total population size is over 100,000 individuals.
It’s a comeback story for the ages. And, right here in San Francisco, you can see a family of otters slide down snow at the Aquarium of the Bay. Well… that is, until tomorrow, December 21st, when the seasonal enrichment activity shutters for the year.
As for the snow — which is finely shaved ice used to store things like perishable meats — itself? It came from a local seafood shop and a tree farm.
“Special thanks to [The Guardsmen] & A La Rocca Seafood for their donations of Christmas trees and ice for our otters,” reads an Instagram caption from the aquarium located at Pier 39. “If you missed it, be sure to get your tickets for our VIP early access otter snow day viewing next Wednesday, Dec 21!”
Videos uploaded by the zoological center show the group of four otters — which, unlike their sea otter cousins that can tip the scales at nearly 100bs, weigh around 20lbs each — sliding and playing in the artificial snow. Some can be seen burrowing into the snow, while others appear keener on rubbing their backs on the snow.
Habitat enrichment practices are essential for captive animals. They help not only stimulate natural behaviors they’d express in the wild, but also aid in thwarting boredom, self-harm, and depression; if you’ve ever seen exotic animals like big cats or great apes pacing cages in a series of identical motions, it’s because they’re unstimulated and, quite frankly, losing their minds.
It’s an adorable, incredibly festive (and biophilic) display in San Francisco that we’re fortunate enough to see play out. So, make sure to grab your ticket tomorrow… or wait until next year.
Consider making it a fitting queer date with an otter in your life. (IYKYK.)
For more information on the Aquarium of the Bay, including operating hours and ticket information, visit aquariumofthebay.org
Feature image: Courtesy of Flickr via Jon Nelson