Otter (Lutra lutra)
Otter, Mainland Shetland, Scotland, June 2004 - click for larger image Shetland, Scotland
May 2004

The Otter is distributed throughout most of Eurasia south of the tundra and in North Africa. They normally inhabit inland rivers and lochs but those on Shetland and around the Scottish coat have adapted to life on the sea-shore. They are not, however, sea-otters Enhydra lutra which live off the north Pacific coast and are fully adapted to life at sea.

Otter tracks, Yell, Scotland, May 2004 - click for larger image The otter in Shetland still requires access to fresh water in order to wash the salt off its thick fur. It also builds its nest or "holt" near fresh water. If it stays too long in the sea, its coat loses its insulating properties and the animal gets very cold very quickly. This raises the question of how the otter arrived in Shetland. It would not be possible for it to swim to Shetland without dying from the cold but it is not known by whom, when or why otters were introduced to Shetland.

They feed mainly on fish which are caught just off-shore usually amongst dense fringes of seaweed.

Tips on otter-watching to be found at the excellent museum at the Old Haa, Burravoe, Yell include: Don't sit in one spot waiting, just keep moving and keep your eyes open; always try to stay down-wind; look for Great Black-backed Gulls on the shore as they often hang around otters to scavange any left-overs.

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