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Coastal and Riverbank Walkers Asked to Help With National Otter Survey

10th June 2023
The new survey will map otters and compare results to the last survey in 2010-11
The new survey will map otters and compare results to the last survey in 2010-11. Credit: Ronald Surgenor

Kayakers, anglers, seashore, and riverbank walkers have been invited to participate in a national otter survey.

The survey is being run by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), with researchers at Queen’s University Belfast and the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

The new survey will map otters and compare results to the last survey in 2010-11.

NPWS teams will look for characteristic signs of otters at over 900 sites throughout the country, including rivers, lakes and the coast.

Members of the public are being asked to “keep their eyes peeled for otters” and report any sightings.

Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan said the public “plays an important role in research such as this”.

“Otters can be hard to find and mainly forage at night, so keep your eyes peeled if you’re visiting a coastal, river or lake environment in the evening or night time and make sure to let us know if you’ve seen one,” he said.

NPWS mammal specialist Dr Ferdia Marnell said the otter is “one of Ireland’s most elusive animals”, and “getting as many people involved in the survey as possible will be important if we are to get good coverage”.

“Otters have large, webbed feet and leave distinctive footprints, but these can be hard to find,” Marnell explained.

“ Fortunately, otters mark their territory using droppings known as spraints. Otters deposit spraints conspicuously on boulders along riverbanks, logs on lake shores or the rocky high tide line,” he said.

“ Spraints can be up to 10 cm or 3 inches long, black through to white but commonly brown, tarry to powdery in consistency and straight or curved making them tricky to identify,” he said.

“Luckily, they commonly contain fish bones and crayfish shells, which are the otters’ favoured diet, making them easy to tell apart from the droppings of birds and other mammals,” he said.

Otters are mostly active at night and most typically seen at dawn or dusk, Marnell continued.

“They may be spotted from bridges, swimming in rivers, or along the rocky seashore. Otters are brown, about 80 cm (30 inches) long and can be seen gliding along the water surface before diving to show their distinctive long pointed tail, which is almost as long again as their body,” he said.

The otter and its habitat are protected under the EU Habitats Directive which requires that Ireland reports on the status of the species every six years, and the next report is due in 2025.

The otter suffered significant declines across Britain and much of continental Europe during the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s but remained widespread in Ireland.

The most recent Irish survey (2010-2011) found signs of otters from all counties of Ireland and from sea-shore to mountain streams.

Details of the survey are here

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

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