Eurasian Otter

Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra). Photo: Mathias Appel (CC0 1.0)

One of Ireland’s more secretive mammals, the Eurasian Otter always garners the attention of the unsuspecting public when they appear suddenly, and slip away just as quickly. We are lucky in Ireland to have one of the highest densities of this water-loving mustelid. But, what do they sound like? The most well-known vocalisation is their bird-like, high-pitched contact call, often given between individuals foraging under the cover of darkness. Like other mammals, although much less-known they have a wide variety of vocalisations. Let’s have a listen to some of these.


MEWING

Mewing is described by Gnoli & Prigioni (1995) as:

“A low frequency mournful sound, often prolonged, with constant frequency values, at times with sudden increases at the beginning or end.”

A typical mewing vocalisation of a Eurasian Otter – prolonged, low-frequency and with abrupt rises in the beginning and end of both strophes. Recorded at Cobh, Co. Cork – January 2021.

BLOW

According to Gnoli & Prigioni (1995) a blow has the following characteristics:

  • Noisy
  • 0-10 kHz, often higher.
  • Sometimes given the onomatopoeic term “hah”
  • Used as a reaction to a potential threat
  • Can be uttered at irregular or long intervals until the perceived threat has passed.
Three blows uttered by a single Otter at Cobh, Co. Cork, Jan’ 2021

STACCATO CRIES

According to Gnoli & Prigioni (1995) a blow has the following characteristics:

  • Irregular in nature
  • Often reaching 16 kHz or higher
  • Uttered to conspecifics nearby or during a quarrel for territory, food, or when an individuals is generally annoyed.
  • Can also be given between playing individuals, as well as mating.
Staccato cries from at least one Otter, Cobh Co. Cork Jan’ 2021

OTTER EATING A CRAB

An opportunistic audio taken whilst recording Teal at Saleen Creek, Co. Cork. The Teal were calling and feeding in a small muddy channel on a windy day. I was focused on trying to record their calls whilst trying to avoid the strong winds, crouching behind the car for shelter. Suddenly the Teal began to panic and rush towards me. I soon noticed a trail of large ripples headed towards the car, before and Otter appeared from the water, apparently fearless and unphased by my presence. I watched it for some thirty minutes as it caught several Common Shore Crabs (Carcinus maenus). It did this by “snorkelling” and diving repeatedly. Success rate was higher, and the Otter spent no more than 20-30 seconds foraging for each crab. It would then sit on the muddy edge of the channel, crunching on its prize.

The Otter in question, finishing a crab, on the creek edge. Saleen Creek, Co. Cork – 29/12/20. Corresponding Audio below. Photo: Seán Ronayne
Male and female Eurasian Teal, photographed at Saleen Creek. Below: Calls from a group of Eursian Teal, directly before being disturbed by the Otter. Saleen Creek, Co. Cork, 29/12/20. Photo: Seán Ronayne.

OTTER ALARMING A CURLEW

Whilst recording some Eurasian Curlew along the North Channel, near Cobh, the Curlew suddenly started to call, in an alarmed state. It was clear something had put it on high alert. A quick scan of the skies revealed no raptors in the area, and there were no other people at this particular moment, other than myself. Then, just like at Saleen Creek, the prominent ripples of what was almost certainly a large dog Otter approached the shore, right towards the area where one Curlew was previously feeding. The Otter continued its approach, to come ashore with a catch. It appeared to be a species of Goby. The Otter fed for some ten minutes, much to the protest of the two Curlew.

Eurasian Curlew. Photo: Seán Ronayne
Long call from a Eurasian Curlew, not long before the Otter arrived – Cobh, Co. Cork. Feb’ 2020.
Curlew alarming at the impending danger of the recently arrived Otter – Cobh, Co. Cork, Feb’ 2021. Corresponding audio below. Photo: Seán Ronayne.

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