One of the mammals we have on Dewees Island is a mink, mustela vision. We haven’t seen them on the island very often, but sightings are on the increase here. Keep your eyes open while riding around or fishing, and you may be treated to the sight of one of these elusive mustelids. Native to North America, the species has also been introduced to Europe and South America, expanding the range (which makes it classified as a species of least concern). Hunted widely for their pelts since before colonial times, there were once two species of mink along the eastern coastline. The other, the sea mink, was widespread in the northeast, and was one of the only carnivores hunted to extinction in modern historical times. It was larger than the American Minks we have, with a larger pelt, with an estimated extinction date in the 1860’s. This South Carolina Wildlife magazine article from 2009 describes the history of the mink and efforts to assist conservation efforts in the state. That article was mentioned in this blog post of 2009.
South Carolina’s mink population, once abundant, declined dramatically about half a century ago, with various forms of pollution thought to be at least one cause, since mink are highly susceptible to environmental contaminants…
Since 1999, a DNR restocking effort has aimed at restoring the mink population along the coast north of Charleston, where mink have essentially been absent for decades.
Dewees Island was a location for restocking, with at least one restocking project demonstrating the food chain in action. (As a mother mink with two young ones was released at the edge of the marsh, a Northern Harrier swooped down and made off with the mother, prompting Arla, the island naturalist, and Rachel, the intern, to plod through the pluff mud to rescue the young minks from certain demise. If you were there, or have photos of that, please share!) Subsequent efforts to re-establish mink populations in Cape Romain may have been so successful that the mink spread southward. We have seen mink ourselves several times this year, at various places on the island, and many anglers have reported seeing them near popular fishing spots.
They are solitary animals who tend to be most active at dusk and dawn, although we have seen them at midday as well. Often found near water, they eat fish and small animals. Dewees Birder Cathy Miller captured these shot of a mink at Huntington Beach state park, eating an American Coot.
Major predators of mink include bobcats, foxes, great horned owls, and alligators. While hunters still take a few mink, the fur trade relies almost completely on commercially farmed mink.
We had a good time watching one fish Velvet creek a few weeks ago, hopping up and down on the bank, diving into the water, catching fish, and hopping back up on the bank. I headed over there, hoping to get a photo of tracks, but there was so much wrack on the bank it was impossible. Click here to see mink tracks at the very helpful website beartracker.com.
I find myself looking for mink every time I am out and about. In the meanwhile, here are the photos I took (from a distance) of the one we were watching. Feel free to comment in with details of your own mink sightings.
Post and Courier: Marsh Mink returning to Coast, January 2002.