Does Marine Mammal Prot. Act cover river


There’s a river otter (not a sea otter) I’ve seen at a couple beaches and piers in Pt. Townsend. Last time I saw it, it was swimming under the Marine Science Center. I was paddling when I noticed it, only 50 to 75 ft away. Did not get closer to it, but I stopped briefly to watch it cruising around under there. Would this be considered a violation of the MMPA?

Last year when we visited, a very large one caught a crab and gulped it down on the beach right in front of us. Several other people also watched quietly. Were we all in violation?

They may be…
protected in some areas, but not in others. In general, the MMPA does not reference river otters at all in it’s list of marine mammals found on:

So, there may be local laws that apply, but the MMPA does not seem to count them as a protected species.

The Marine otter (lutra felina) is on the list, though, and it looks a bit like a river otter, but since it’s restricted to the west coast of South America, I don’t think I’ll see one soon or have occasion to harass it.


probably not an issue
The MMPA doesn’t say how far you need to stay away, just that you need to not kill, capture, harass, etc. Harass is the key one. People used to understand that you couldn’t hunt for or otherwise kill marine mammals under the law. But over the years, the law has also come to mean that you shouldn’t cause the animal to change its behavior (as this is now considered harassing). Sounds like they did not change their behavior, so if they are on the list, you should still be fine.

Should be ok
If it really is a river otter, it is not covered under the MMPA. A sea otter would be covered since it lives in saltwater. The MMPA defines a marine mammal as “(6) The term “marine mammal” means any mammal which

(A) is morphologically adapted to the marine environment (including sea otters and members of the orders Sirenia, Pinnipedia and Cetacea), or

(B) primarily inhabits the marine environment (such as the polar bear); and, for the purposes of this chapter, includes any part of any such marine mammal, including its raw, dressed, or dyed fur or skin.”

As far as harrasment, that is usually up to the law enforcement official. Harrassment is defined as “(A) The term “harassment” means any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which—

(i) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild; or

(ii) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.”

Full text of the MMPA can be found at

River otters sometimes go in saltwater

– Last Updated: Sep-22-12 11:18 PM EST –

They've been known to do that around here. Larger than typical river otters (probably because of those giant crabs they eat), but the face is pointy and they don't float lying on their backs to munch, either. At least, not what I've seen so far.

Thanks to all for the responses. I look forward to seeing more water mammals.

Seeking legal advice on the internet …
… is probably not the wisest thing to do.

As one with some law training, I think I can safely say that, legally speaking, a tree does not fall in the forest unless there is sufficient evidence of the event to carry the burden of proof.

Of course, when one confesses flagrant guilt on a public internet forum, the best we can do is send a carrot cake to you in the Big House.

Oooooo, you so scare me
I’ve been on the 'net long enough to know both the pitfalls of using it, and the benefits.

Even IF I did something wrong, it’s not in the same league as claiming (claiming isn’t always factual, either) to have murdered someone.