The Otter

Isle of Mull, October 1st, 2010, and I was on a quest for otters. Two days before, I had joined a wildlife watching tour, and at the very end of this tour we had spotted an otter - far away, and just briefly, but the glimpse had been enough to ignite my eagerness to see another one. Our guide had told me that along this road on which I now walked, otters could often be seen in the neighbouring waters of Loch Scridain. He had explained that solitary otters generally parole the edges of this loch searching for a meal. When an otter catches a fish it will make its way to solid ground to consume its prey, and this was the best opportunity to see this incredibly elusive mammal.

As I walked along the loch side road, searching its waters that seemed to stretch on an on, the hours slipped by me, and I thought to myself, ‘Really - what are the chances of seeing another one?’

All at once, three hours into my search, a swirl in the water about forty feet from the loch’s edge; another swirl and then a head streaming along the surface; then nothing but watery rings as an otter disappeared. It was heading along the edge of the loch in the same direction as I. I ran up ahead along the road side, about 100 meters and then made my way off the road onto the pebbled, rocky shores of Scridain. I quickly flattened myself out on my stomach about 10 feet from where the loch lapped onto the shore. And there I waited. Would the otter keep moving up shore? Would it pass before me, under water and undetected? Would it spot me hugging the shore and laugh to itself and disappear to not be seen again?

I waited, flat as I could against the pebbles, chin on hands, back aching, rocks digging into my stomach, and my eager heart began to beat faster in anticipation, in the hope for another but closer glimpse of an otter.

Suddenly, off to my left, the otter appeared. It was forty feet off the shore line, and still far away from where I lay, its head moving back and forth on the water’s surface, diving under, remerging a couple of seconds later. It continued to make its way north until it was almost opposite me. At once, the otter dove under and when it emerged, not 20 seconds later, it seemed to have caught something. In disbelief I watched as the otter turned from its journey north to head towards the shore – my shore, the shore on which I lay. My heart erupted as it got closer and closer and I kept thinking, ‘It will spot me. It will spot me and dive under and find another place to eat its fish.’ But on it came, and the distance between us diminished. Thirty feet, twenty feet, until, fifteen feet from me it began to feel the seaweed beneath its feet as it crawled, so slender and shiny, to the lake’s edge, to stop not 10 feet in front of me, to consume its catch.

I was sure my heart would give me away as it banged into the pebbles. So close! Pitch black eyes, long white whiskers protruding from dimpled skin around a fat little black nose. It dropped the flopping fish on to the sea weed covered pebbles, and paused briefly to look at me, looking straight into my eyes and I thought, ‘Now he will dash off. He will see me as not belonging on the shore, he will hear my pounding heart,’ but all at once his front feet emerged from seaweed to hold the fish steady as sharp teeth ripped off chunks of flesh. Otter feet! Otter feet not ten feet from me, webbed and muscled and huge! Minutes ticked by and the fish began to disappear, bones and flesh, as the otter continued to crunch away, ‘Crunch, crunch, crunch,’ in my ears.

When he had finished his meal, he sniffed about around him and rubbed his whiskers in the sea weed and on the pebbles and then slowly he turned without so much of a glance in my direction and he slithered off the shore to disappear once again into the crystal clear waters of Loch Scridain. And I remained on the shore, my head resting on my arms, my heart slowing and my brain swirling in gratitude and disbelief.

J Riederer

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