Driving slowly along the coast is often the best way to find an otter. Keep your eyes on the road, and let your passengers do the otter spotting. Drive as slowly as you like, but let the vehicle behind past you in the next passing place.
When parking do not block passing places, gates, or driveways. When getting out of the car do not slam car doors or make any noise – you will simply scare the otter away. Your car makes a good viewing hide, so you could be better off staying in it.
Respect other otter watchers, and enjoy better, longer views of otters by not making noise. All too often people report how they were enjoying watching an otter which was oblivious to their presence when the peace was shattered by a car door slamming and someone shouting ‘Look, there’s an otter!’ Unsurprisingly, the otter wasn’t there for much longer.
Do not try and get too close to an otter. The most likely result is that you will scare the otter away. You could disturb the otter, prevent it from feeding or returning to its holt, or you could stop a female from returning to its cubs to feed them.
Otters can be resting up among the rocks and seaweed, so take care when walking along the shore. Be careful not to disturb other wildlife such as ground-nesting birds. You could easily tread on eggs or chicks. Retreat if adult birds are agitated or alarm calling.
Respect the flora too, and try not to damage the wonderful array of plants that grow near the shore. You could be treading on orchids or other rare plants.
Lots of people want to photograph otters. This has caused several problems on the Isle of Mull in recent years, as all too often people get too close in an attempt to get a closer shot. This disturbs the otter and can prevent it from feeding itself or its cubs. It should be remembered, at all times, that otters are wild animals and deserving of our respect. They are also a protected species under the law, making it an offence to harass or disturb these animals.
We will soon be publishing more detailed guidelines for photographers. In the mean time a good rule to live by is never approach an otter if it can see you and knows that you are there. It will simply go away and you will have stopped it going about its normal business. It is possible to quietly get closer to an otter when it is diving for food (a typical dive lasts 20 seconds), if you are downwind, and if you present a low profile. But please don’t push your luck, and please, please don’t disturb otters in the pursuit of a photo.
Otters and Dogs
Many wildlife enthusiasts are dog lovers and it is understandable that they should wish to walk their dogs along the beautiful coastline which is also the domain of the otter.
The Isle of Mull welcomes dog owners and their well-behaved pets, but be aware of the impact that a free running dog can have. Sheep, cattle, ground nesting birds, and otters can all be disturbed.
It is possible for well-trained dogs to sit while their owners watch an otter at reasonably close range. It is also possible for an otter to become used to the sight of a particular dog. But dogs that are out-of-control and barking in the vicinity of a feeding or resting otter, will invariably result in the otter making a fast getaway. Also, be aware that otters are tough animals with sharp teeth, and could represent a genuine threat to a dog if they are forced to defend themselves.
During Spring and Summer months, many ground nesting birds (gulls, terns and waders) will share the coast which an otter inhabits. Dogs that are off-the-leash pose a genuine threat to the nests, eggs and young of these birds at this time and can cause considerable unseen harm.
Mull Otter Group recommend keeping dogs on the lead in these environmentally sensitive areas.