Are these really otters?
June 10, 2024 3:28 AM   Subscribe

We were hiking with our dog this morning around a loch in a remote area of northwestern Scotland and came across a sight we'd never seen before. Were our eyes playing tricks on us or could this really be hundreds of otters swimming in the loch? Otters???

When we approached the loch with our dog they disappeared below the surface and as soon as we turned away they all popped back up again! There appeared to be a fishing net in the area and we think they were there to take fish from the net.

My husband has spent most of his life in Scotland and has never seen anything like this before. Could it really be otters or is there some other possible explanation?
posted by Tanya to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Those objects look more like the top parts of some kind of underwater vegetation to me, flapping in the wind and the waves. The way they're oscillating in place rather than moving around doesn't make sense otherwise.

You might well have spotted some otters or seals in amongst there too, but I think that's what most of this is.
posted by automatronic at 3:57 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]

Yeah, automatronic is right. Here's a video of a wild otter in a river, for instance. River otters don't hang around on the surface like sea otters.

There are definitely wild otters in Scotland, but I think you're just seeing plants.
posted by fight or flight at 4:28 AM on June 10

Best answer: I'm fairly sure those are plants of some kind, and I think some stalks are visible among the larger parts. The fact they're static, as automatronic says, is a good sign they're not animals, fish or birds. The question is why they're moving that way, and my guess would be they're being pushed down by the wind, which is blowing almost directly towards you, so you're only seeing the up-down movement, not the lateral movement. As the leaf drops down, your view of it is blocked by the small waves.

(Back in my teens I spent quite a long time staring at the waters of a large Scottish loch, and am familiar with some of the visual tricks they can play.)
posted by Hogshead at 4:29 AM on June 10 [4 favorites]

Not Scotland experience, but US experience: from my lifelong living near water experiences, these look like the edges of water lily leaves being caught and lifted by wind. Water lily leaves are large and flat and usually right at the water surface, if that helps you identify comparable water vegetation in your area.
posted by Silvery Fish at 4:32 AM on June 10

Best answer: My friend runs an ecological consultancy here in Scotland and is an expert on otters, so I asked her.

She would also guess it was kelp flapping in the waves.

You would normally only see about five otters together as a maximum (and that would be a mum with pups and a male or other female tagging along).

She's quite often seen kelp that can look like an otter, but then you realise it isn't moving anywhere.
posted by Klipspringer at 4:41 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]

Could they be the bottoms of waterbirds who are face-down feeding?
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 4:45 AM on June 10

Response by poster: Thanks all. I think you're right that most if not all of the things we saw were plants. I'm going to go back in the next day or so with my wetsuit just to check, though. I'll report back.
posted by Tanya at 6:05 AM on June 10 [10 favorites]

That is a very cool video. I also would have been confused. They aren’t doing otter things but they certainly do look like bobbing heads!
posted by amanda at 7:51 AM on June 10 [1 favorite]

Another vote for kelp. I saw a very similar thing when I was visiting friends on Vancouver Island. I was absolutely sure that I was seeing sea otters, but then I slowly realized that they weren't going anywhere. On reviewing the photos, I realized that it was kelp.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:35 PM on June 10

Response by poster: I went back this morning and had a lovely swim. They were water lillies. Thanks everyone who answered. My husband is still convinced he saw a few otters amongst the water lillies. I'm just glad whatever they were they inspired me to swim.
posted by Tanya at 3:02 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]

« Older How common is this sexual dynamic?   |   Still Covid-positive on home antigen tests on Day... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments