Following and learning about Shetland otters

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This is an extract from my dairy when I first moved to Shetland and set about learning about where the best sites were to follow Shetland otters and to understand the behaviour of Shetland otters.   I was interested to see the differences compared to the west coast of Scotland but first I need to explore the coast.

From the dairy:

Went back out this morning to look for Shetland otters, in particular a mother and cub I have been following.  On my way to the coast I passed another otter and her two cubs in the bay but still the wind is the wrong way to even think about trying to photograph this family. A long walk in and I finally arrive at a cobble bay and instantly hear otters calling. Thinking it’s the mother and her single cub I’m amazed when I crawl through the heather and peer along the coast to see two cubs and their mum. They kept coming out on this rocky point but it was a very difficult position to photograph them from. It always amazes me how all three otters seem to melt into the rocky coastline. They could disappear even though they were no more than 5-6m away due to the gullies and boulders along the shoreline.  Basically there their but you just can’t see them.  I did manage a couple of images but it was fascinating to watch the family. Interestingly they were mainly catching fish either butterfish or eelpout and I did not seem them catch a single crab, always a good sign.

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Before long they were moving along the coast again. However the next 150m of coast is very difficult to photograph otters, due to its height. The otters worked the shore line not really going any further than 10m out. The mum kept bringing cub’s large fish in between eating smaller fish herself.  The behaviour that I was observing pointed towards they were heading back to their holt, never spending much time in anyone place.

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I moved in front of the otters to a low part of the coast in anticipation and in the hope they might come out along this part of the coast, particularly if she caught a big fish for the cubs. Although I already knew they were heading home, moving quite fast and just occasionally fishing along the way, I lived in hope.  I was not disappointed when mum caught a fish (pollack) and brought it to one of the cubs who sat on the rocky shore eating it. Frustratingly a rock was in the way and I could only just see the cub’s head above the rock.

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I followed them round the point to where their holt was and one of the cubs was given a scorpion fish before disappearing into the holt. It was excellent to follow them for 2 hours but frustrating to have so little photographic opportunities. This coast is not a good coast for photographing otters but there is a high density of otters in a relatively small area.  Looking at the images over the last month as I expected this otter with two cubs is a different otter to the otter with one cub from the last week. Every day I learn more about this area and the otters that live here but it may be time to look at other coastlines that may be more productive for photography.

Richard Shucksmith

Richard's favourite place is Shetland's coast, for it has a wide variety of habitats, species and dramatic seascapes. He studied marine biology and marine ecology which has allowed Richard to develop an understanding of this dynamic environment. His photography has enabled him to visually communicate this passion and understanding of Shetland's wonderful coastal life in particular Shetland otters. Richard’s work has been widely published in magazines, journals, books, newspapers, advertising agencies around the world and has won many awards for his work. In 2011 Richard was overall winner in British Wildlife Photography Awards (BWPA), as well as winning the animal behaviour category in 2014.