Maine — and its woods, lakes, streams and the adjacent Atlantic ocean — are home to plenty of wild animal species. But every now and then, those critters have a surprise up their sleeves.

During a recent chat at a downtown Bangor coffee shop, Ben Sprague explained how he and a couple of dozen others enjoyed a coastal encounter with an unexpected group of animals — otters.

That encounter, according to Sprague, is just one more reason he loves living in the Pine Tree State.

“Here in Bangor, one of the special things is you can be sitting here in West Market Square, and you could walk five minutes and see a moose or a bear. That’s cool,” Sprague said. “And you could be in a great Maine craft brewery and see wildlife 20 feet away from you, literally coming out of the water.”

Sprague said he was visiting Belfast on Aug. 18 when the otters showed up for a brief visit.

“I was sitting at Marshall Wharf Brewing Company, right on the waterfront, and there was a minor commotion as people started going to the rail to look out at something,” he said. “I didn’t know what it was. I heard somebody say, ‘Hey, there are seals out there!’ But no. They weren’t seals. They looked a little bit like seals, but they were otters. I think there were five of them.”

Columnist’s note: Now it’s time for a brief quiz. What do you call a group of otters? Is it a herd, perhaps? A flotilla? A flock? Hint: It’s none of those. But I’ll sit here and wait for a minute while you come up with your own best guess.

Time’s up.

The answer, according to   this cool website, is that you’ve got a choice. When they’re in the water, they’re a raft. In general, they can be called a bevy, a family or a lodge. Or (my personal favorite, and the word I’ll use for the rest of this column) you can call them a romp. Honest. A romp. What could be better?

So here Sprague was, sitting on the waterfront, and here comes a romp of otters, which clambers up onto a nearby slip. A minor commotion ensues. Everybody, it turns out, loves watching a romp of otters (forgive me) doing what they … otter.

For a little while, anyway.

“They all came out of the water, up on the dock, and a couple of them seemed to be rolling around on the dock,” Sprague said. “Somebody I was with suggested that they were marking their territory or something, but I don’t know if that’s accurate or not.”

Sadly, the romp wasn’t interested in explaining itself, and Marshall Wharf Brewing Company didn’t have a trained naturalist available to explain the phenomenon. And as quickly as the otters had arrived, they romped off, right into the bay.

“I think as they sensed human activity around them, they kind of looked around and then waddled off the dock to the other side, and back into the water,” Sprague said.

Sprague said the crowd of about 20 or 25 patrons seemed as shocked to see the otters as he did, and he got the impression that the romp doesn’t regularly stop by for beer, snacks and a roll on the dock.

“It seemed to be unique to everybody watching,” he said. “It seemed to be a rare enough, unique thing that people were making note of it. It was not a common occurrence, I don’t think.”

Sprague himself had never seen otters in the ocean, though he said he has seen them in lakes and ponds. And me? The only place I’ve seen them is in the Pacific, when my wife and I stopped in Monterrey, California, during a vacation trip a few years back.

The curious-looking critters were a hit there, and hundreds of them bobbed in the waves to the delight of visitors who went to the dock to watch them play.

The recent appearance may have been more surprising and spontaneous, but that doesn’t mean that people were any less entertained. Sprague posted a photo on Facebook and instantly began hearing from friends.

“I’ve had a couple of people reach out via private message to ask where it was, because they wanted to go down and find [the otters], just for the novelty of it,” he said.

Good luck to them. And thanks to the otters for providing us this romp of the week.

John Holyoke is the former outdoors editor of the BDN, an aspiring novelist and a future high school English teacher. He can be reached at

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...