O is for Otter

OO was the easiest choice of all. This animal has been my favourite for as long as I can remember. Just last summer I checked off a major bucket list item when I saw these wonderful animals in their natural habitat.connected to this creature. My love affair began a lifetime ago, thanks to the classic film ‘Ring of Bright Water’. At 6 years old, I was smitten by an otter.

Ring of Bright Water tells a fictionalised version of Gavin Maxwell’s life with Mij. The story follows Graham Merrill (played wonderfully by Bill Travers) who finds an otter in a London pet shop. Finding life in a small apartment with an otter untenable, he relocates himself and his new friend Mij to the Scottish Highlands. There, he meets Dr Mary (Virginia McKenna – of Born Free fame) and they become firm friends. The story tells of the pleasures and tragedies of their life with Mij and his progeny.Film 'Ring of Bright Water' (1969).

To an impressionable 6 year old, the idea of an otter as a pet was magical. Otterly amazing, you could say. I’m sure I made my parents’ life unbearable for several weeks afterwards. I’ve loved otters ever since. Even today, in a zoo or wildlife park, it will be the otters who occupy most of my time. I will watch their antics above and below water for hours. Otters are always happy, always playing. What a way to live!

I’ve long wanted to see otters in a wild setting, but their scarcity and timidity make this a challenging goal. Unless, that is, you are in northern California. We visited California in 2013, and spent a few days in the Monterey Bay area. This was the absolute highlight of my vacation. Right from the first day, we saw sea otters. We followed a sandy road towards the harbour mouth and there they were – a raft of around 30 young males, bobbing on the gentle swell. I was like a dog with two tails. An absolutely otter this world experience (sorry).


The Monterey area is a haven for sea otters. Once near extinction, populations have stabilised thanks to long and concerted efforts. An international ban on hunting, extensive conservation efforts and repopulation actions have brought the animal back from the brink. Now, the Monterey Bay area is home to around half the worldwide sea otter population. Otters can easily be seen from the beaches around Moss Landing. Head down to the incredible Monterey Aquarium for an up close and personal with their otter exhibit, or step outdoors and watch the wild otters at play or rest in the kelp beds.

Our best viewing by far was from the water. We had planned to rent kayaks, but Mrs Drew is no sailor – her fear of water is surpassed only by her fear of snakes. However she was willing to take to the water in the company of the Elkhorn Slough Safari. The safari takes you aboard a very stable pontoon boat and explores the slough, travelling much further than a kayaker could hope to in the time available. The highly knowledgeable Captain Yohn Gideon locates and identifies many species of bird and mammal. Captain Gideon will expertly manoeuvre his vessel to give the best viewing opportunities without disturbing the animals, and he has many stories to keep passengers entertained.elkhorn

Our days in Monterey were over too soon, but we will be back. If you’ve never been you certainly otter go. This is a magical area with the natural beauty of the slough, deserted Pacific beaches, the amazing scenery of US 1 and the 17 mile drive, the best golf in the world if that’s your fancy, family fun at Santa Cruz – and then just another 100km or so and you are in San Francisco! But that’s a story for another day, and another post.

If you’re an otter fan, I recommend Ring of Bright Water (the movie). You should also seek out Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson – a magical tale told from the otter’s viewpoint.


PS – I was tempted to critique ‘The Story of O’ today, but I didn’t identify my blog as AC from the outset 🙂

Ring of Bright Water image from DailyMail.co.uk

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