Raising Two Pups September 2002
The last time we saw the mother and two pups that I watched in 2002, they were contending with a beaver on August 23 in what I call the Lost Swamp Pond. A week before that I watched them for about four hours at Otter Hole Pond, though they spent most of the time sleeping. On September 6 I saw them again in Otter Hole Pond. They swam into the pond coming up from Beaver Point Pond, probably coming all the way up from South Bay. They took a brief break at Otter Hole Pond lodge and then they swam up pond and I found them again in the Lost Swamp Pond. Take a look. In the video below I think we see the mother stay out in the pond while the pups recoup their strength inside the lodge.
These otters seem more together than the otters we saw in the previous page. I think the otter pups on the previous page, speeding around the East Trail Pond on August 11, were being challenged by their mother to find dens and safe places in the pond without her showing the way. In the video above I think the mother was showing the two pups how to get from pond to pond, with her leading the way, and making sure that the pups were keeping up. I don't think we should minimize how challenging this is for the pups. Sometime between August 11, 2003, and September 16, 2003, when I saw them again, one of the group of three pups disappeared.
In the next three video clips we see the otter mother and two pups fishing in Otter Hole Pond on September 8, 2002. Once again we can ask the question, are the pups catching any fish? But first an admission about my methodology. Since I can't positively identify the otters, especially when they are diving and swimming, I seem to make the assumption that the otter that catches a fish has to be the mother. And any otter that definitely looks like a pup and who definitely has a fish, I seem to assume that the mother gave the fish to the pup. But that is honestly how I view the video clips, which I continue to study. In the clip below, I think it is relatively easy to keep track of the pups because they still play together and usually swim together, and meanwhile the mother keeps bringing up sizable fish and eating them. Then how are the pups getting fed? Now that the pups are more capable, I think the mother leaves fish parts in the water and on logs and in grass clumps, or she cripples fish and leaves them in the water. She no longer chews up the fish so that she can paste parts on logs. Here's the video clip, look, and then I'll try to pinpoint how the pups are getting fed.
It is not an easy case to make, since it is clear that the pups are much less prone to rush their mother when she does have a fish. Indeed one wonders how she taught them to behave like that, for even in October we will see instances of otters stealing morsels from each other. In the video clip above I edited out about half of what I videoed originally, but because there was constant action I probably kept the camcorder rolling so we get a pretty good record of their fishing. Until the 0:59 second mark what we see is confusing but then we can see one large otter up on a sunken log chewing on a fish and in the background we can see two small otters playing. So we've identified the same separation between mother and pups that we saw back in July. Mother fishes and eats; pups play. At the 1:26 mark a frog jumps along on the pond surface, while an otter ducks its head in the water in the background. At about the 1:40 mark we see two otters break off their fishing and swim over to follow the larger otter swimming to the left. Here again is familiar behavior, the pups gravitating to the mother. Now, this is open to interpretation, but what I think we see next is the pups swimming to and through the mother's wake. They are not expecting her to put a morsel in their mouth but to leave something in the water. Plus the pups are active in the water, so they are not simply nibbling the pond surface as they seemed to do in July. They are trying to catch what's left behind. Until, perhaps, at the 2:30 mark, where I think we see the mother bring up fish and toss it to a pup as it swims by. The pup tries what must be a difficult trick to learn: eating a fish without using its paws. I think it drops the fish and gets head down in the water to retrieve it. What is also interesting to me is that the mother often breaks off the rhythmic swimming and diving that otters use to catch fish. She swims back and forth on the pond without diving. I think she is keeping an eye on her pups, or rather, making sure they are seeing where she is going to get fish. I will try to put some photos in here that show this pond during drought conditions so you can better visualize where the pups were diving. In the last minute of the clip, the otters briefly return to the lodge, and then swim a little ways up pond, the pups periscoped, evidently alarmed at something -- not me.
When I see otters go back to a beaver lodge, I always expect them to scat and rest a bit. This is because I learned about otter pup rearing a little backwards. In 1997 and 2000 I saw otters a good deal in October and early November when the pups were applying their lessons not learning them, and there were usually discreet episodes of fishing and resting. But as I study the otters use of the lodge in August and September, it strikes me that the mother frequently interrupts their foraging in order to briefly touch base. So the pups don't lose track of where they can go for safety. We can almost read the mothers mind as she breaks off fishing and goes back to lodge, as if to say, here is our base for now, and then swims out and reminds the pups to look up where they are going even if they are simply returning to where they were just fishing. That said, I've never seen adult otters make a show of periscoping up to look over where they are heading. It's just that the pups have to learn about the space they live in so why not stop and stare? The video clip below continues the story of their fishing. The mother leads and the pups follow. Will we see evidence that a pup catches a fish all on its own?
I must say as I look at this video over again and again, I have some trouble holding on to the fine explanations I weaved around the video clip before it. The clip begins with all the otters swimming around, then for two minutes we see the mother gnawing on a fish and the pups are not to be seen. What lesson is she teaching here if the pups are nowhere near to profit from it? However, eventually, at the 2:27 mark, she carries the remains of the fish she has been eating and appears to drop it on one of the woody clusters all over the pond. Meanwhile, were the pups playing or fishing? It looks like the mother moves to find the pups and looks like they have been fishing not playing. When we next see an otter on a submerged log gnawing on a fish, I think it is a pup. I don't think we can tell where it got the fish. Then we see something significant I think at the 4:16 mark. The pup swam away from the stubby trunk where it had been eating. Another otter, I think a pup, swims over going directly to that post, as if it were checking one of the places where the mother leaves fish. Then we see the three otters fishing together and at about the 4:35 I think we see a pup come high out of the water and turn its head like it had caught a fish. But it may have been the mother. At the 4:56 I think we see the mother bring up another fish which she eats rather quickly. But in the moments after there is a good bit of rippling. Are the pups underwater getting a share of that fish she just caught?
In the third video clip from this day's fishing, I think we see a pup catch a fish. I don't think an adult otter would rear up that high with such an evidently small bite, so small we can't see it. And I don't see a pup would rear up so high, while not in act of playing, if it hadn't caught something. Of course, I'll pinpoint when I think this happens. The clip below also raises the general question: when an otter swims fast in a straight line under water, which we can see by the arrow of surging water on the pond surface, does that attest to its fishing ability or inability. Will a fish most likely evade the chase? Let's look at the video:
I think we see an otter, head up, eating a small fish at the 0:20 second mark. It looks like a pup, but there is another otter in the water next to it and at 0:44 second mark it looks like that otter is the mother. We see 30 seconds of nicely coordinated fishing, then cruising, then at the 2:18 we see an otter bring up a large fish and it looks like the mother to me. The two pups come over and bob in the foreground at a respectful distance, then move off to the right, and then at the 2:47 mark or so the camcorder just catches one of the pups rising out of the water, probably a way to secure a fish in its mouth. (I certainly never think I have secured a fish until I get it high out of the water.) At the 2:57 mark we see an otter up again definitely chewing. Then we see both some speeding under water, which may be an energetic chase after a fish, or it might be play. But we also see the pups fishing just like otters fish. At about the 4:42 mark we see an otter come up chewing again, but given how that otter then leads two otters away, I think the mother caught that fish. Evidently she had come over to encourage the pups in their fishing by her example. At the 5:05 mark we see an otter brings it head out of the water. I think this is a pup, taking a quick look around, not bringing up a fish. Then an otter swims back to the lodge, leaving two little heads back in the water. I think it is the mother, and I think she sees me. Perhaps she was coming over to get a better fix on me. She soon swims out to join her waiting pups who have their little heads up, also looking around.
I was quite content with the lessons I learned from the otters that day, but I saw them heading up toward the East Trail Pond, so I followed in a round about way over a ridge. There was a good wind in my face so I didn't think I would spook them again if I stayed high on the ridge. And I did see them again. The video clip is below:
This is a short video, and as relaxing for me to watch as it must have been for the otters to get back to the pond where they had spent most of their time the last few months. They came up into the shaded grass of their latrine. The mother and at least one pup had a scat and then swam up the pond.
Unfortunately, I didn't see these otters again in September. So, since we are trying to keep a chronological grasp on the development of the pups, let's go back to what I saw in 2003. I saw the otters four times in late September.
Off to the next page for that Page 14
Contents and Guide to Video Clips
By Bob Arnebeck mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org