(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — It has long been rumored that North American river otters call Presque Isle State Park home. Sights from visitors have been plentiful. Park staff have noted otter signs throughout the park. But until New Year’s Eve, there had been no photographic evidence of the animals.

Presque Isle State Park has announced that otters have finally been videoed through a game camera.

Leading the effort has been the park’s environmental education specialist Ray Bierbower and Brian Gula. They’ve been chasing the elusive animals since 2019. They’ve seen prints and tracks where the otters have slid on their bellies in the snow, but it wasn’t until New Year’s Eve that they finally saw the actual animal.

“When I saw it on the video, I yelled for Brian to come over because we’ve been trying for so long. I got a little excited about it,” Bierbower said. “It’s been my unicorn for a while. We were just missing out on them or the camera batteries were dying. It was just one of those things that just didn’t click.”

Photo courtesy of PA DCNR Presque Isle State Park.

Bierbower said that looking back, there have been clear signs — the beaver population at the park has seen a slight reduction and there has been an odor in the area that is, in hindsight, unique to otters.

“Hindsight is 20/20, and now we’re noticing some of the things we were seeing in the lagoon could be attributed to the otters,” Bierbower said. “Now we’re putting two and two together as to what we were experiencing at that time.”

Having video evidence of the otters is significant, Bierbower said. It proves that habitat improvements on Presque Isle are having a positive impact on the wildlife.

“We’ve done so much work as an agency on Presque Isle, and having them not just show up but stick around, and not just pushing through — it proves why we’re doing what we do when something shows up and stays,” he said. “It speaks volumes for the health of the habitat.”

Knowing that the otters are at Presque Isle means staff can monitor the population and highlight the species as a unique feature to the peninsula, Bierbower added. There are at least three otters at the park.

Presque Isle State Park is hosting a virtual seminar to discuss the otters on Jan. 25. Unfortunately, the registration for that event has closed, but Bierbower said he plans to share information about the otters in additional programs throughout the year.

Presque Isle State Park is at 301 Peninsula Dr.