Otters can be quite an elusive carnivore that used to be quite rare, in the 1950's they were almost extinct, but over the years they have made a healthy comeback. It is reported that Scotland now has a population of around 8,000 otters, half of these being located on the West coast.
Whilst still elusive, otters are common on Skye’s rocky coast. Here in front of the cafe in Loch Dunvegan we have two otter visitors. One is a large dog otter who's territory seems to cover much of the bay. The other is a smaller female. It is reported that otters are most active at dawn and dusk, but that having been said, we have been sat in the cafe watching the antics of an otter catching fish in the clear water beneath us, at various times of the day.
Otters grow up to a length of 155cm from nose to tail, and can weigh in at over 11kg. They have thick brown fur, a slender body, a thick powerful tail and short legs with webbed feet. Otters have poor eyesight but use sensitive whiskers on their face to help detect their prey, and strong claws that allows them to grip their food.
They are highly intelligent. Locally they have been known to rob lobster pots of their catch by reaching in and taking out the trapped lobsters. Otters have large appetites and will eat more than 1.5kg of food a day. They feed mostly on fish, but will take any kind of seafood, birds or eggs when they are hungry.
They are generally solitary animals except at breeding times. They mate all year round, though most babies, known as pups are born in Summer months between May and August. The mother raises the cubs alone, without the help of the male and usually care for them for the first year. When the cubs are about a year old they leave to make a home of their own. Otters live to be around ten years old in the wild.
Large male otters can be easily mistaken for a seal, but watch as they swim through the surface water. As they move along the surface they give a Nessie style shape of three humps. One hump being the head, the second part of the body, and the third hump, the large tail. They tend to dive for around 15 -20 seconds as they pursue their prey beneath the waves. If they catch something large they will bring it to the shore to eat, or if it is small enough, they will roll onto their backs and eat.
Whilst at home in the sea, the otter still needs a regular source of freshwater for drinking, and also, to keep its fur clean and healthy. A good place for spotting otters is wherever there is a freshwater stream or river inlet into the sea.
For a great otter experience visit the Otter Hide in Kylerhea, Skye.