Three Animals You May Be Surprised to See in the Potomac

Dolphins are just one of the surprising animals you may find.

Photograph of otter by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program;


Melania Trump recently had a second baby. Well, a dolphin named after her did. The more than 1,200 bottlenose dolphins identified by the Potomac-Chesapeake Dolphin Project are named after Washington figures.

Where to try seeing one: Virginia’s Northern Neck, where the lower Potomac is more brackish.

River Otters

They’re elusive, and thus hard to spot, but the North American river otter is native to the Potomac.

Where to try seeing one: Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Woodbridge. Otters are active at night, so your chances are better at sunrise or sunset.


North American eels used to be abundant, until a West Virginia dam blocked their path. Proposed “eelways” could lift them over the dam.

Where to try seeing one: You really want to? They’re kind of creepy. Maybe it’s enough to know they may be coming back.

This article initially appeared in our September, 2020 issue. To view the entire guide to the Potomac, click here.

Editor in chief

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986 as an editorial intern, and worked her way to the top of the masthead when she was named editor-in-chief in 2022. She oversees the magazine’s editorial staff, and guides the magazine’s stories and direction. She lives in DC.