The surfing of otters

In this morning’s citrine lull and cobweb-light breezes the sea shore was a busy place. Yesterday’s kelp heaps were hives of activity: oyster catchers shouting, their red eyes flashing, rock pipits diving up and down, gulls squabbling and overhead, crows harrying a bird of prey. An eagle perhaps; difficult to see. It has been some time since the shore birds could be heard above windy blusters and the sea. Still lively, today’s waves were viridian, hanging slow and large, then thumping down in white champagne froth. I made my way along the field boundaries and rocky shore, birds and waves ignoring dog and me, on to the beach where storm sands and cobbles have been piled high and steeply sloping by moon tides, and now partly cover Poseidon’s kelpish refuse. We played, dog and me, and meandered happily, looking to the sea.

But then, as if by magic, two small brown shapes dashed out of marram-dressed dunes behind us, across the sand and stones and into the whalloping waves. Both of us stopped, still, and watched, amazed. Otters! Otters! Such unfettered joy I have never seen, unless I count the shouting, rushing, jumping delight of my children at play in foam and surf. Two otters who, for more minutes that I could count, played ‘tag’, diving into oncoming waves, skimming out of the water like dolphins, and surfing wave-crests as they broke towards the shore. Yes, I did say surfing, didn’t I? Otters surfing as well as any Bondi boarders!

Suddenly they rushed out of the waters shaking their fur, and dashed up the sand and shingle slopes, bodies intertwining, twisting, tails curling around each other, mouths open and teeth nipping in a fervent display of companionship, and then they separated, one returning directly to the sea following the same track, the other dashing behind us in a long arc to enter the foam further along the shore. I watched them both head out past breakers, still exuberantly diving and resurfacing, looking back across the small bay to one another, before swimming strongly in opposite directions, one north, one south.

For some minutes, shocked and breathless, I standing, dog sitting, we watched the larger, bolder otter swim north. Thinking this joyous encounter was done, I stroked my dog’s patient, but quivering, head and turned. And there, gallivanting, rollicking down from the dunes, another otter. He (she?) smaller but was no less vivacious, scampered across the sand and into the sea. A yearling perhaps? Displaying no fear of a human being and her canine partner! Mouths open, we watched, dog and me, astonished.


Postscript:  For all this magic, I had no camera, and even if I had, I would not have been able to capture them, so astonished was I to see these delightful creatures, and I do not have the wildlife photographer’s skills. But I did draw a very swift sketch.






About Annie O'G Worsley

I'm a mum of four, gran, writer, crofter & Professor of 'Environmental Change'. I now live on a small farm (known as a croft) by the sea in a place surrounded by the ‘Great Wilderness’ mountains of the Scottish NW Highlands. I was a full-time academic, a geographer, but I decided to go feral and follow my dream of living a smaller, simpler, wilder life. I have always loved wild places. As a child I was inspired by tales of Trader Horn (my great-great-great uncle Alfred Aloysius Smith) told to me by my mother. Trader Horn spent his life wandering, mostly in Africa. I too, love stravaiging (Gaelic for wandering) and spent time in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea as a young researcher, living with tribes there. Although I spent years researching and teaching university students about environments, processes and habitats, I am discovering much, much more exploring the wilds around me. In moving away from scientific writing, I have rediscovered my wilder self and have a much deeper, truer understanding of nature than I ever had before. My work is published by Elliott & Thompson in a series of anthologies called 'Seasons' and I am currently writing a book about this extraordinary place. I continue to write academic papers with my research colleagues but I am developing new skills including landscape photography and painting. And of course, I still love to wander.
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2 Responses to The surfing of otters

  1. Lulu says:

    Wonderful! Especially the sketch: very evocative and lively!


  2. Great sketch! A photo would not have captured the moment as well, I feel 🙂


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