European Otter amongst seaweed, Scotland
pic Photographed using a Nikon F4s camera with Nikkor 400mm lens and Nikon 1.4x teleconverter supported on a beanbag rested on rock; taken at about 1/60th second at f5.6 on Fujichrome Provia 100 film rated at ISO 100 and processed normally; no filters used.

Photographed in overcast mid-afternoon daylight, April.

Isle of Mull, Scotland.

The Story behind the Picture....

"I was putting in some time trying to photograph wild otters around the coast of the Isle of Mull in north-west Scotland one spring. Even at the best of times, the weather in these parts can be fickle, with 'all four seasons in one day' as the Scots say.

"On this occasion, the day had already started rather gloomy and overcast, and only brightened slightly later on. From shortly after dawn I had been watching a small area of coast where I'd seen otters on previous occasions, but all morning had seen no sign of any at all.

"Around midday, I finally spotted one swimming along the coast in my direction, about 200 metres away, frequently popping out onto exposed seaweed banks to eat its catch, usually a crab or small fish. The wind direction was in my favour, being on-shore, and so I quickly made my way down from my vantage-point to the lower shore, slip-sliding my way across the exposed, greasy seaweed covering a small peninsula of rock, until I found a suitable position behind a low rock 'wall'. Lying prone, with the wet seaweed slowly soaking through my clothing, I waited for the otter to appear.

"The otter soon swam into view between seaweed islets, diving frequently and often climbing out onto a seaweed islet to either eat its catch or have a sniff around and perhaps spraint-mark its territory. Most of this time it was tantalisingly out of reach of my lens (a 400mm with 1.4x teleconverter) for anything other than a small image-size, but gradually it was coming closer and closer to my position.

"Soon it was appearing at the calm water surface just 20 metres away and I began to shoot pictures, all the while hoping that it might come out onto a perfect seaweed islet right opposite me just 15 metres or so away.

"When otters dive for food, each dive seldom lasts for more than about 40 seconds, whether they catch food or not, so when I'd mentally counted over a minute (one elephant, two elephant, etc, etc) I began to wonder where the otter had got to. After another 60 elephants, I cautiously raised my head for a good look around and, as I turned back to the direction my lens was pointing, I suddenly came face to face with the otter in the water amongst the seaweed just 6 metres in front of me!

"Fortunately, the otter was busy chewing on a (tasty) fish and had not seen my slow movements. Hardly daring to breathe, I very slowly moved back down to get my eye to the camera viewfinder, got the otter in frame and focused, and pressed the shutter. The combined noise of shutter and fast motordrive seemed to echo over the quiet waters and the otter froze in mid-chew, staring toward me.

"I remained absolutely motionless, most of my body being hidden behind the rocks and my head obscured by the camera and big lens. After a few seconds, the otter proceeded to finish its meal and, as it did so, I fired off a double shot. At this it froze again, so I decided to fire off a couple more. Sniffing the air and looking around, it was obviously perplexed as to what or where this strange noise was coming from, but was unable to see any movement from my direction nor gain any scent of me.

"I shot off another double frame, but, at this, the otter had had enough puzzlement and, with a short gruff grunt, it turned and dived underwater. Reappearing about 15 metres further out, it looked in my direction but was obviously unworried as it then proceeded to dive and feed again. Gradually, it moved further along the shoreline, diving frequently, until it dived one time and I never saw it (or any other otter) again that day."

Geoff Doré

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