Raising Three Pups, August 2003
Unfortunately, on August 2, 2003, I never quite got a shot of three pups sitting obediently in front of two lecturing adult otters. I didn't even get a frame of video where I can count five otters with certainty. Here is what I managed to capture:
The clip above does, I think, show two adult otters, judging by tail size, propping themselves up on the fallen trunks at the edge of the pond. We see two pups in the water. I think the third is behind the tree. In my journal entry for this day I clearly stated that I saw five otters.
All that aside the video clip above doesn't show pups more capable than I saw in the two pup families in early August, save that this time when a pup was rocking on a log, it had a fish in its mouth, though it looked like its mother gave it to him. In the continuation of the video from August 2, 2003, we do see pups swimming and diving with more coordination then we have seen before at such an early date.
At the beginning of the clip we see pups and adult all more or less fishing together. At the 0:15 mark the mother and at least two of the pups are dive bobbing in the water. The adult came up with a fish. The bobbing by the pups, though none of them seemed to get a fish, made it easier for the adult to get a fish because the pups' commotion probably froze the fish who saw no easy escape, and probably tried to hide on the murky bottom. Otter whiskers can detect fish even when the otter can't see through the muddy water. Then the mother moved on and three pups seemed to keep up and, especially at the 0:55 mark, keep their spacing better than the two pups I had watched in other years. The pups are even ahead of their mother by then. At the 1:04 mark the three pups all have their heads down in the water. Twice in the clip we see a pup going to a log, where they are used to finding morsels left by adults, and in the first instance in this clip, it is possible the pup was trying to pin something it just caught on the log, and it wiggled away. At the 1:40 mark pups revert back to their swirling play, but not for long. Then the pups branch off and soon there is coordinated foraging, three tiny tail flipping up in the air. What a proud site for a mother otter to see -- except her head was underwater trying to catch fish. As far as I can see, otter mothers never make a point of watching her pups demonstrate their ability to swim, dive and fish. She is always showing them. She has to feed them and herself, which keeps her busy.
I was excited to find a family with three pups in August. In 2000 I got a series of good videos of a family with three pups, but not until late September. However, while I continued to see the otters in August 2003, each sighting had a strange aspect. I never saw such forthright family fishing as I did on August 2, 2003. But first I have to go back a week or so. On July 26 I saw one otter fishing in the East Trail Pond. This otter seemed so at home, so familiar with the same pattern of fishing that I often see here, that I think it is more proof that the mother had a helper and that this otter is either the mother or her helper fishing for herself. This is also a good video to show here because the first 20 seconds demonstrates the typical fishing speed of an adult otter, and there are two longer segments showing tearing about a fish in a leisurely fashion. There are no pups around eager for their share. And she rolls on the bank without pups in the way. I say "she" because a mother would never use a male as a helper.
At the end of the video I scan over at the rocks where I think the otters were denning. There was also an old bank beaver lodge nearby. Then a week after I saw the five otters on August 2, I saw one otter again, this time near the marsh in South Bay. I had come out at dawn in my 14 foot starcraft motorboat and rowed over to the north shore of the day under the cover of overhanging willow trees. A beaver swam by me heading down the bay toward the end of the marsh. When it slapped its tail at the 0:21 second mark, I assumed it was reacting to me. Then I began hearing chirping soon saw an otter swimming back and forth at the end of the bay, from the marsh to the north shore, chirping loudly and at times even waving its tail, at the 1:19 and 1:53 marks for example and just at the end of the video clip.
Was the otter reacting to the beaver, to me, or to both of us? I assume it would not have been so alarmed if it had not been protecting pups. Then on August 11, 2003,I saw the three pups and their mother again which turned out to be a very strange sighting. Once again I went over to South Bay in my boat, but this time in the late morning of a hot, sunny day. I took photos of waterlilies and then rowed over to the marsh where I saw the otter swim into back on the morning of August 9. Just after I took a photo of where I fancied otters might enter the marsh,
Then I heard a snort, saw an otter's nose and thought I heard another otter snort in the marsh. I waited but they didn't swim out nor did I hear them again. I docked the boat on the north shore and hiked up to the East Trail Pond to check for fresh otter scats. I assumed the otters wouldn't be there because they were evidently in South Bay. After I checked their usual latrine where I smelled but did not see scats, I walked around the west end of the pond on a park trail. I didn't get far when I bumped into two hikers looking down the slope toward the pond. I looked that way too and saw three otter pups coming up the slope below me. One of the pups went back to the pond, but two continued up to and went under the trunk of a downed pine. I've shown a shorter version of the clip below to demonstrate how pups return to their natal dens.
After the otter pups went back into the pond, I went down the slope and took a photo of the hole under the pine trunk and perhaps into it.
Then I went back to the slope overlooking the main part of the pond, and looked for otters. I didn't have long to wait, but I wasn't and still am not sure what I seeing. In the video clip below, we soon see three otters on the lodge. An adult, the mother, seems to be the first up which is often the case. Then while two pups are walking around the lodge, one otter swims off, presumably the mother. Then two pups follow. I have trouble following their progress and moving a camera ahead see an otter in duckweed in the pond near the rock dens. Take a look.
My sympathies go out to the pup at the the 3:42 mark who is looking up and looking around. My hunch is that the mother otter was purposefully separating herself from the pups forcing them to rely on their knowledge of the pond to find her and keep their cool. After diving themselves, continuing their old fishing lessons, the pups come up and sniff logs and don't seem to find the fish remains they are used to getting. Then they all swim back to the lodge. I'm not sure if they are following their mother or she simply materializes as they swim back. Anyway, in the video clip below, we finally see the mother and three pups on top of the lodge. However, as far as I can see, in the 4:48 seconds of the clip we see the mother and three pup fidgeting as they keep walking around the top of the lodge seemingly not even trying to get comfortable.
The only thing I can suggest is that perhaps there is something uncomfortable about the lodge, a scent on it that concerns the mother, because in the clip below, after the family does settle down, another mother leading her pup swims by the lodge. At the 1:00 mark I pan back to the lodge and the otters there seem to hardly notice the interlopers. I didn't get a good shot of the intruders. At the 1:18 mark you can just see the two heads. They swim over to the rock dens.
I didn't see where they went on shore, but at the 1:40 mark I begin to hear chirping. And at the 2:16 mark I look back at the lodge where some pups were somewhat squirming. So August 11 proved to be unique in my tracking. I saw one otter in the South Bay marsh, and likely heard another. And then saw a family of four, then a family of two. Plus when I usually see otters, especially pups, in July and August the priority always seems to be playing and getting fed. The pups did a bit of fishing but something else seemed to be on the otters' minds. Unfortunately I didn't see otters again for another month in 2003, and when I did it looked like the mother with three pups joined up, or at least tolerated the presence of the mother with one pup. However, I did see a mother and two pups in early September 2002. Let's go back to their story.
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By Bob Arnebeck mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org