The Otter Video Book

by Bob Arnebeck

Now, you can see what a video book is. Video clips of otters will play on each of the pages of the book once you click the video player to start. There is no narration nor added sound track on any of the video clips. Otters, in my experience, are rather quiet animals, which isn't the case in most movies about them. I will interpret the video clips in the accompanying text, so what I saw determines the course of the "book." That sounds simple enough, but having your reading continually interrupted by a video clip from one to five minutes long, sometimes five of them on a page, or to have to watch a series of video clips without the aesthetic touches that make movie watching relaxing is not easy. However, most of my sightings were of otter mothers raising their pups, so that is what the "book" is mostly about, and they are certainly entertaining to watch. I also became quite familiar with the habitat in which I watch the otters. You'll see many beavers in the video clips. So I also explore otter foraging techniques in beaver ponds (and how beavers sometimes react), the otters use of dens, and I try to understand the way otters look at their habitat. To accomplish all that, I do rely on what others have written about otters.

Unfortunately, I study otters in isolation. Not only have I not been able to excite anyone to join me on the ground, except for occasional companionship, but, not really conversant in the language of modern wildlife biology, I don't feel a part of the small community of serious researchers who study otters. That said, I have profited from advice and information from Jan Reed-Smith, J. Scott Shannon, and regularly check on things otterly on Lesley Wright's Otterjoy website. Because of my web site on otters, which has been on-line since 1999, I have learned a great deal about otters from the questions and observations of many people. I have kept up an on-line journal of my nature observations since 2005 and which allows you to virtually look over my shoulder. My wife Leslie Kuter and our son Ottoleo, help me keep an eye on otters when they can and not infrequently see things differently than me. You'll hear their voices on a few of the video clips. Perhaps because of my relative isolation, I have a curious way of writing. I like to write on-line, that is, I put each page on-line as a rough draft and then edit and expand that page even as each succeeding page is added to the "book." Something I might discover in putting together page 8 might require a rewriting of page 2. This thinking out loud seems to keep me motivated, and since no one is paying me to do this, I need a prod. (The animals are no help. They keep luring me back to the swamps.) I also welcome any criticism that may make the "book" better or open my eyes to errors of any sort. The video book has 14 pages more or less done now, plus another 30 or so pages waiting to be recast that were part of a CD-R I once tried to sell. My e-mail is bobarnebeck@gmail.com

Now, back to the otters:

and we'll see them in all seasons.

Otters and I have been bumping into each other since about 1992. I began taking notes on them on 1994, and videos of them in 1997. I have seen them in the St. Lawrence River, but there they are usually swallowed in its huge expanse of water. I see them much better in the beaver ponds in the interior of Wellesley Island, and that's where I saw the otter in the video, one bright day in early June 2001.

How oblivious he seemed of me. Perhaps he was distracted by the shallow water, only a few inches deep. That otter was almost treading mud, not quite an otter's proper element. I'm pretty sure that was a male otter making the rounds of his territory. So what did he do when he finally noticed me standing in the middle of the beaver dam?

I think it is significant that he didn't run away and hide, or dive into the water and flee. He did not care for the six foot tall man in his way and let me know about it. But his trials were not over. A beaver started swimming toward him. Though beavers are slower than otters, with no hope of catching one in a race, this beaver didn't want this otter in the pond and came right toward him.

Finally the otter dove and swam way up pond, perhaps puzzled by the human and beaver in his way but still determined to mark his territory.

However, I didn't see him make his mark. Too much happened in this encounter. While it was my most exciting, all it shows is an otter's strong sense of belonging to the wetlands. Two years earlier, April 21, 1999, I had another encounter with a male otter. Like the June 2001 otter he was speeding through his territory. This time I saw him make his mark.

and I got one of my best videos. Go to the next page to see that, and I'll try to share my sense of how otters make sense of their habitat: page2