Otter Cubs - Shetland Nature Diary - March 2009

by Brydon Thomason -

For me the highlight of the month was one of the otters I visit bringing her adorable cubs out and about for the first time. This female is at least four years old and this will be the third litter. I had spent many cold hours over the passed few weeks expecting and hoping to see her introduce them to the shoreline that was soon to become their playground.

Several weeks ago I managed to suss out where her natal holt was, by watching her from a distance leaving the shoreline and sneaking off inland, to a secretive and inconspicuous holt, only a few hundred yards from the shore. At two months old otter mothers begin to show their cubs the outside world. At this age she will relocate them to a coastal holt, usually only a few feet from the shore.

An old dry stone walled sheep pen close to the holt gives me an ideal viewing point and almost acts as a hide from which I can watch and enjoy the secretive and intimate behaviour of this family without disturbance. Some days if the wind is from the wrong direction, I cannot approach the old pen and have to watch from a distance.

Unfortunately I missed her transferring the cubs to the new holt, or "haad" as we call them in Shetland. In all my years watching otters I have only seen this once, when the mother carries each cub individually from one holt to the other by the scruff of the neck, exactly the same way as a dog or cat would carry their young.

At this young age she has yet to take the cubs far and I have yet to see them stray further than a few meters from their holt. They must only have been out for a day or two at the most when I first saw them, as they seemed hardly able to coordinate their steps across the rocks, clumsily tripping and rolling over. I have not yet seen her take them out on the water, instead she leaves them each time she slips away to forage and feed, during which time they usually keep a low profile but every day are becoming more and more inquisitive as well as mischievous! Watching a mother learn her cubs the ways of the water is, as it is to witness each and every stage of their lives, in my mind a true privilege and with the longer nights approaching, I look forward to watching this family throughout the coming months with great enthusiasm and anticipation.

Bye for now...
Brydon Thomason

About Brydon Thomason

Brydon runs a specialist wildlife guiding service that focuses on all aspects of Shetlands exhilarating natural history for individuals, couples or small groups (maximum of 6), specialising in: otter watching, bird watching, wild flowers, boat trips and much more. Read more about these trips at

Having lived in the Shetland all his life, Brydon is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable naturalists in the isles. He welcomes any questions or comments on the monthly nature diary and should you require any information on any aspect of Shetland's natural history please contact Brydon

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