Should You Swim With Otters?

To an animal lover being close to and interacting with wild animals is a dream. Imagine being able to cuddle with a tiger just like you do with your cat, swimming with dolphins and their adorable faces, riding a majestic elephant! Unfortunately, all those dreams have been shown to be completely awful ideas, though, and a true nightmare for the animals, but could otters be an exception to that rule?

A video of a woman swimming with otters is making the rounds on the Internet. The footage shows a young woman in a tank with five otters swarming her and swimming around her.

“This is the most amazing thing,” she says while the otters “kiss” her face and do laps around her. “You guys have to come here to Nurtured by Nature with these baby otters. It’s 100 percent guaranteed that you will leave here feeling more joyful than you’ve ever felt in your entire life.”

The place she refers to, Nurtured by Nature, is a nonprofit organization led by husband and wife Kevin and Wendy Yates in southern California that works with terminally ill and traumatized children to give them a chance to heal around animals. The video is an example of their “Otter Experience,” which they’ve been offering to the public for the last six years.

The experience is part of the bigger animal interaction offering. For $200 people get to see a kangaroo up close, pet the back of a sloth and get face to face with an armadillo, porcupine, African ground hornbill and, as the main event, swim with otters.

“We believe that when people have proper interactions with animals, it creates a bond and a care for those animals,” Kevin Yates told Care2. “We want people to learn to care about animals, care about different species, care about water, recycling.”

When told about the “Otter Experience,” Dr. Daniel Allen, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Member of the IUCN/SSC Otter Specialist Group, and author of the book ‘Otter’ showed some concerns.

“As much as I want to like the idea, I struggle to see how this benefits otters or education,” he told Care2 via email. “Petting zoos generally prioritize people and turn animals into props. People do not, and should not, swim with otters in the wild. The public does not strip off and splash around with otters in zoos. This ‘experience’ is a novelty fraught with potential dangers.”

“I have been bitten by hand-reared Asian small-clawed otters,” he continued. “They have needle-like teeth which can go through the bone. One of these captive-bred otters could quite easily bite through the finger of a child, or cause other injuries through biting. Even seemingly tame exotic animals retain their wild instincts.”

To those points, Yates says, Allen is completely right and that is why they take extreme care and caution not to allow any of it to happen.

“Otters a very unique species and are extremely emotional so we’re very careful with them,” he explains about how the five group of otters are treated at the organization. “We only do one swim [with humans] per day, three to four time per week, and it lasts half an hour to an hour. We open the door for the otters to come out into the tank where guests are and if they don’t come out, we don’t force them. Once they are done and want to leave, we let them.”

When asked if his operation was anything like SeaWorld, which infamously offers animal interactions, Yates said he couldn’t comment on how the orcas are treated because that is not his expertise, but that Nurtured by Nature is different since the animals are not performing.

According to him, all the otters do is swim. They are not trained to do tricks for food because “that doesn’t make for a happy animal, it makes for an anxious animal,” and once inside the tank, humans can’t do anything but be around the otters.

“People are not allowed to take anything from an otter. They’re not allowed to chase them around in the pool, the otter has to come to them,” he says.

During the swim, three people from Nurtured by Nature who have experience dealing with otters supervise to make sure the otters are being left alone. Guests are also told to put on sunscreen ahead of time so it can soak into the skin before they get in the water, although Yates says the product doesn’t affect the animals.

A big part of the program, Yates says, is also explaining to people how otters are actually not as nice and cuddly as they seem to be on the internet, holding hands while they sleep and hugging their young while floating.

“Otters make terrible, terrible pets and we talk a lot about that,” he says. “We tell people during the program, you’d never want to do this in the wild.”

Yates says he’s been approached by other facilities that wanted to mimic their program and offer it themselves but he always tells them not to.

“To other facilities who call and say they want to do this, I always say, ‘I’m not going to support it,’ because unless you have a lot of otters and only do this a few times a week, that’s not going to be good for the otters,” he says. “One thing we learned is that you don’t want to do this in a commercial setting because it puts the people in charge and you’d have people getting injured and unhappy otters.”

Photo Credit: Nurtured by Nature

95 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

SEND
Donn M.
.2 years ago

Only under very controlled circumstances and the people know the risks. Never ever swim near wild otters, they do sometimes attack and can do major damage.

SEND
Steph O.
Stephanie O2 years ago

Leave them alone! One day, everyone will be trying to domesticate these beautiful creatures!

They're not suitable pets and never will make suitable domesticated pets. LEAVE THEM ALONE!

SEND
Neville B.
Neville B2 years ago

Hard to condone the use of (non-rescue?) exotic animals, even for the laudable purposes of therapy and education, which can be done more safely and ethically in other ways.

SEND
Dianne D.
Dianne D2 years ago

No don't swim with wildlife. They will be much happier in nature where God intended them to be. Animals should never be exploited for human entertainment.

SEND
Beverly S.
Beverly S2 years ago

They should be swimming in wilderness waters, not a pool.

SEND
Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

Not really a good idea.

SEND
Rhonda B.
Rhonda B2 years ago

No!

SEND
Liliana Garcia
Liliana G2 years ago

This doesn't hold water. No pun intended. Just look at the picture. Very unnatural pose for otters. Leave them alone!

SEND
Maggie W.
Maggie D2 years ago

I would love to but wildlife should be left in the wild unmolested by humans.

SEND