By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING — The river otter – sleek swimmer, audience-magnets at zoos and aquariums, whiskered diver, aquatic frolicker, correct answer to crossword puzzle clue for “playful mammal.”
And biomonitor to track toxics that damage the health of an environment or ecosystem. North American river otters, common in Northern Michigan, play that role as “apex consumers” in the aquatic ecosystem –at the top of the food chain. They eat primarily aquatic animals such as fish, turtles, amphibians and crayfish. “Thus otters serve as biomonitors – organisms that contain information on the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the environment – of wildlife exposure,” according to a new study of toxic chemicals found in Illinois otters. The study said they’re also biomonitors for human health because the same toxic chemicals found in otters have been found in people who eat contaminated fish.