Bay Isles swans Alan and Beverly had four cygnets that appeared healthy in May, but they wouldn’t take their hatchlings out of the water.
That concerned swan keeper David Novak, who worried they felt threatened by a predator.
“They can be vulnerable in the nest,” Novak said. “That’s why they get them out of the nest quickly, because they’re safer in the water, but for days after they were born, (Beverly) wouldn’t leave with them.”
Finally, Alan and Beverly emerged from the water — with just one cygnet.
Novak believes the other three cygnets fell prey to a river otter that his neighbors saw in the water around the time they disappeared.
“Where they are is very remote and protected,” he said. “A fox, coyote or raccoon could get them on land, but probably the otter is the only water predator.”
River otters may look cute, but they’ve got some Longboat Key residents concerned. Although they typically eat fish, they go after what they can catch, including birds and other small animals, and have no natural predators — meaning they could become what some consider a nuisance animal.
There have also been cases of otters attacking humans in other communities.
In 2010, an otter that tested positive for rabies reportedly attacked and injured a 96-year-old man walking near a lake in Venice.
The Bay Isles Master Association Board recently directed its management company to facilitate the removal of river otters if they come into the neighborhood. If caught, they would be returned to fresh water, although no otters had been trapped as of July 1.
Just how many otters are there on Longboat Key waters?
No one knows for sure whether it’s a single otter or if multiple otters have created a den, which they form under the mangroves by burrowing a tunnel into dry ground.
Dr. Lou Newman, a retired veterinarian and wildlife photographer, spotted an otter two years ago on Longboat Key and photographed it. He said he was surprised to find it in the area but said that river otters can live in salt water, although they probably need fresh water to survive.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].