The Otter in North Carolina

The fall-winter foods of otters living along the coast are largely fishprincipally carp, catfish, suckers, and sunfish. The otters' diet at other seasons of the year is largely comprised of fish, blue crab, and crayfish. Other foods, all taken in small quantities, are shrimp, clam, water beetles, decapod, muskrat, rails, and waterfowl. An examination of 53 female otters from northeastern counties over a 12winter period (1947-48-1958-59) showed that breeding starts during January and continues into February and possibly into March. Of eight gravid otters in a study sample of 53, five contained three embryos, two contained two, and one contained four embryos. This is an average of 2.88 embryos per female. Sex data obtained on 273 otters showed 149 (55%) males and 124 (45%) females. This is 120 males for every 100 females. Weights were obtained on a total of 238 otters. The average weight of 138 males was 18 pounds and 3 ounces, and the average weight of 100 females was 15 pounds and 7 ounces. The longest of 22 otters, a 24-pound male, measured 510 inches; the shortest, a 13-pound female, was 38 inches long. Body lengths ranged from 23 to 36 inches and tails from 14 to 190 inches. Otter pelts, after they were skinned and placed on a drying board, measured from 8 to 190 inches longer than did the carcasses. North Carolina contains an estimated population of about 3,000 otters. Estimated populations on large untrapped refuges range from one otter for each 367 acres to one for each 1,100 acres. During the 1958-59 trapping season, 10 otters were trapped from about 5,000 acres of marsh in Currituck County. This is a yield of one otter for about every 500 acres of land. Otters appear to travel more during the mating season that at any time during the year, an estimated 10 to 12 miles. Families from the birth of young in spring to the time of separation in fall or winter appear to live within an area of about nine square miles. Otters may be legally taken with traps or firearms and/or by dogs during a season that averages about 80 days. Most otters are taken in traps. During twelve trapping seasons, 1947-48-1958-59, a total of 12,557 otters was harvested. A record yield of 1,514 animals was caught in the 1954-55 season. An epizootic that apparently struck following the destructive hurricanes in 1955 reduced yields to 687 otters in the winter of 1956-57. The fur of North Carolina otters is ranked among the best in North America. The average price paid trappers in recent years varied from $12.00 to $22.00 per skin. Select black pelts sold in New York in 1957 brought up to $48.00 each. Otter management is best accomplished by trapping regulations that insure the leaving of ample brood stock.

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