The Elusive Otter in Scotland

Wild Scotland
28 May 2024

The Elusive Otter in Scotland


We are spoiled for choice with amazing wildlife in Scotland.  From Golden Eagles soaring high above open hills to Red Squirrels scurrying through the canopy of pine woodlands, there is a bountiful choice when it comes to wildlife encounters.  However, one species that is often overlooked when visiting this area is the European Otter.  These elusive members of the weasel family (mustelids) are always a joy to see and often provide a ‘magic moment’ for those lucky enough to encounter them.


European Otter (Jane Hope)


Otters are highly adapted aquatic hunters, who are related to badger and pine marten, and are one of the most eagerly sought, yet elusive mammals in Scotland.


The European Otter is just at home on the coast as it is on inland lochs and rivers.  The former being the easier habitat to see them, however, like most wildlife there is no guarantee of seeing one at all.  An Otter on the coast in the UK is the same species as the ones encountered inland – not a ‘Sea Otter’.  The individuals inhabiting coastal habitats thrive on an ecosystem that is determined by the tides and exploit the bountiful food trapped in exposed rock pools and shallows.  This makes them slightly more predictable than their inland counterparts as their activity is very much dependent on tidal activity.


An Otter on the coast (Katie Mennie)


One of our members, Speyside Wildlife describes a recent encounter, “Timing our arrival for low tide, we arrived to scan the surroundings for any Otter activity – and we were not disappointed!  After scanning a lot of Otter shaped rocks, we eventually spotted one individual tucked up fast asleep at the end of an exposed outcrop.  Delighted with our initial success, we continued to watch the sleeping otter as it lay seemingly unaware to the rest of the world.  The harmony was soon disrupted as a second individual popped up onto the rock and the two began to frolic around the rock and into the water.  This was an amazing encounter and a real highlight of the day.”


Away from the action on the coast, looking for Otters inland can be a much more challenging task.  On lochs and rivers, it is more likely to see signs of an otter than seeing the animal itself.  You may find that identifying clues that an Otter has been in the area can be just as rewarding as actually seeing the animal.  The most obvious one is finding footprints along the waters edge. These are distinguished by their 5 teardrop shaped toes and kidney shaped pad – most likely to be confused with the tracks of an American Mink however these are much smaller.


Otter Tracks


Did you know?  Otters use their long whiskers to feel the vibrations that a fish or eel makes as it swims through the water.  As a result they can hunt and catch this underwater prey in pitch darkness. In contrast their eyesight is very poor both underwater and on land in daylight.


Allen M, a guest with Otter Adventures encountered otters during a “splendid day of kayaking on Loch Sunart with Karl.  The scenery is spectacular and we spotted two otters.  Karl is very helpful and is a good teacher.  He is also passionate about the environment.  Thank you for a wonderful time Karl.


Whether on a meandering river or out on the coast, a sighting of an Otter is always a special encounter.


Back to latest news