"As a PhD student in marine ecology, Eric Ste Marie knew what he saw was rare." That sighting in the Detroit River last month, as described by WXYZ, is now making headlines, and it may be the first of its kind in a century. Ste Marie, a 27-year-old going for his doctorate at the University of Windsor in Ontario, was taking a stroll with his partner at the end of April along the river's shoreline when he "noticed something furry bobbing its way toward the Ambassador Bridge," reports the Detroit News. Ste Marie pulled out his phone and started recording, ruling out the possibility that the creature was a mink, muskrat, or beaver.
That's when it hit him and his partner: They were looking at an otter, a species experts say was pushed out of Detroit area waters a century ago thanks to the buildup of the city, too much hunting and trapping, and pollution. "It was the last thing I was expecting to see," Ste Marie tells John Hartig, a member of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy who tells the Detroit News that even though there've been "a few anecdotal reports from citizens" on otter sightings in the Detroit River, Ste Marie's video is the first photo or video documentation of one in 100 years.
So what's the big deal that an otter suddenly showed up in the river? "Their presence indicates clean water," a WXYZ reporter noted in the station's Monday story on the sighting. "It's really cool. It's heartening. It's evidence that our pollution control and pollution prevention programs are working," Hartig tells the Detroit News, though he adds the caveat that climate change and contaminated runoff will likely continue to pose further challenges. As for Ste Marie, "I'm never going to not look for otters when I'm walking along the river," he says. "I hope we'll see more otters and other animals that we don't see here anymore but traditionally were in these waters." (Read more Detroit stories.)