A river otter swims in the Salem Civic Center pond on De. 26, 2021 (David Craig video still)

David Craig has occasionally spotted river otters in Mill Creek.

But the Salem biologist had a first on Sunday when he and his wife saw the native mammal munching away on a largescale sucker fish in the pond at Salem Civic Center.

Craig, a professor of biology at Willamette University, recorded several videos of the otter swimming, frolicking and enjoying its meal while observing it for about 45 minutes Sunday morning.

He pointed the animal out to other passersby and then posted video on his Facebook page, where is garnered dozens of likes and comments.

(Video by David Craig)

“It’s nice to share those things. Knowing the possibility that it could happen, that other people could see it I think it adds a little bit to the hope and magic,” Craig said.

Otters are fairly common on the main branch of the Willamette River, but sometimes venture upstream.

Craig said because of his work, friends and people around town often contact him with their own animal sightings.

In the past decade, he’s seen otters in Mill Creek once and received three other reports, typically when lamprey are spawning and make for a tasty meal.

He suspects the weather may have driven the animal to look for food elsewhere.

“I’m guessing that it was not coincidental that it was snowing and the otter was there,” Craig said.

(Videos by David Craig)

River otters are abundant in the Pacific Northwest and aren’t considered threatened or endangered, but Craig said they’ve still been impacted by fur-trapping, pollution and habitat destruction.

Craig said he frequents the pond and has observed herons fishing and commonly sees invasive nutria.

The otter’s fish, he said, was the largest he’s seen in several years.

“That was pretty amazing to see how big its fish was,” he said.

“Anytime we get a predator like that that’s clearly having a good meal then I would see it as a sign of a healthy ecosystem.”

While otters can easily eat a variety of introduced fish, Craig said there’s a special significance to seeing a native predator munching on a native fish - a relationship that’s existed since “time immemorial.”

“It’s always a joyful moment of old healthy systems that have been part of the Willamette Valley still persisting and thriving,” he said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM - We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!