Mother Raising One Pup
You might recall my discussion of otter territory on page two, in which I inferred what the marking otter was doing from my sightings of an otter family, mother and two pups in July. At that time, 1999, I had the impression from my reading that otter mothers were extremely secretive about where they raised their pups, seeking out the most secluded reaches of a wetland. So that year, I shunned beaver ponds with human hiking trails near them, and never looked at nearby South Bay which in July could be crisscrossed with boats, canoes and kayaks, and with fishermen out at dawn working marshy shores.
Otters soon showed me I was wrong when I began tracking a mother taking her pups from the marsh in South Bay up to the beaver ponds, especially one near a hiking trail, and then back down to the bay. By 2004 when I went out at dawn to look for a mother with pups in June and July, I began my quest by first scouting the large cattail marsh in South Bay that forms a point in the bay rooted by a few well placed billion year old granite outcrops.
On July 12 I was initially disappointed when I saw a large otter swim out of the marsh with only one small pup behind her. That promised a summer of dull tracking. Who after all would one otter pup play with? An otter mother is agile, sometimes peckish, but nothing is as wild to watch as two or three elastic otter pups.
Well, this otter mother soon answered my question about who the pup would play with. She paused in the midst of her fishing and swam over to a flat rock along the shore of the marsh. She evidently had a fish in her mouth which she had crippled because the fish got away and splashed along the rock, but the mother easily caught up to the fish, and her pup was right behind her. She presented the fish to the pup, and it managed to take the fish, almost half as big as it, up on the rock.
The next video clip suggests that the fish was as much a plaything to the pup as a meal. The fish was certainly alive since it was almost able to roll back down into the water. I recall that mother had about fifteen minutes to fish alone in the bay. Then she came back to check on her pup.
This suggests to me that in July otter pups have not learned to fish for themselves, and rely on their mother for food. Two days later, I saw these otters again, this time up in the East Trail Pond.
I've broken down my morning experience with them into two video clips. The first repeats a bit of the clip I showed on the previous page.
The mother enters the pond first and has to stop and wait for the pup. She might even swim back a bit underwater to help it along. Generally, otter mothers are leaders not herders, but it looks like when the mother parks herself up on a log, the pup stays in the water looking like it is itching for action. Mother then leads the way, and her pup swims up on her back, perhaps hitching a ride. When we see them again, I think we see the mother sharing a catch, probably a small fish. As I hope to demonstrate, as pups go, this only child, if you will, is quite accomplished at swimming. We'll see pups the same age a bit flummoxed when confronted with a log in the pond. This pup swims under one without pause. In the next clip, the pup will swim and dive, independent of its mother. Does it catch any fish?
This clip opens with the mother eating something on a grassy log. Otters often bring the fish they catch up on logs. The pup appears in the water a few feet away. Then a heron, probably alarmed at my presence, croaks as it flies off. The pup dives a bit scared. The mother slips into the water, too, and soon enough joins her pup. Then she leads the pup off for some fishing. The pup does a nice dive, and as we will see, pups with siblings often lack that ability this early. However, the mother swims very slowly for an otter. I lose track of them briefly, and didn't edit that out of the clip because it speaks to the ability of the pup. On the next page, we'll see a pair of pups, about the same age, who almost seem shy of the water. The otter that comes up with the fish by the dead tree trunk is the mother. The pup surfaces, and dives. The mother concentrates on her meal which, I think, she will share with her pup. The pup gets its nose up on a log sticking out of the water. The mother often pastes fish parts on logs -- we'll see that better on the next page. After the mother's tail wagging dive, which the pup gamely tries to imitate, she hurries over to the grassy log and seems to me to share some food. She is also moving more quickly and I think that is because she realized I was around. She leads the pup away. I kept my camera trained on that log they swam under because the pups I had seen in other years would pause before such an obstruction. Then I saw that the pup was swimming smartly behind the mother as they disappeared up pond.
Litters of just one pup are not common so the behavior of these two otters is not common. It's idyllic and shows an endearing dynamic: the patience of the mother and the obedience of the pup. Now, let's up the ante and look at a mother with two pups in July. Click on the page 7 for that: Page 7
By Bob Arnebeck mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org