College of the Atlantic biology professor Steve Ressel leads the way as COA's <a href="/live/profiles/1674-winter-ecology">Winter Ecology </a>course begins an otter survey in Acadia National Park.College of the Atlantic biology professor Steve Ressel leads the way as COA's Winter Ecology course begins an otter survey in Acadia National Park. Credit: Jennifer Mitchell, Maine Public

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Okay, so it’s not a bear or some kind of wild cat. It turns out that river otters- known for their penchant for sliding down hills and sporting in the water- are a top predator species at Acadia National Park. Bruce Connery is a wildlife biologist with the park service.

“They can eat anything from invertebrates of all kinds, so things like dragon fly larvae, and stuff like that, but they would prefer having things like crabs and fresh water mussels, or salt water mussels, or they would eat fish especially,” Connery says.

For the next several weeks, about a dozen students will be looking for clues about how otters and their prey are faring. It’s not as easy as it sounds. The process must be standardized so the same process is followed each time the students go out. And then there’s the fact that otters rarely show themselves. Students must learn to track them. They learn those techniques on the surface of a – mostly – frozen lake.

For some, like third year student Siobhan Ricker, it’s a whole new world.

“I grew up in a city,” says Ricker, “and 50 degrees, and that was pretty much the standard.”

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