|Giant otter, Brazil (8/13)|
We were fortunate enough to see TWO species of otters on our trip to the Pantanal. Both sightings, about 24 hours apart, were from boats while on the Paraguay River. It was our second day on the river when our boatman spotted this family of giant otters. There were seven in total, but I never did manage a photo of them all together. We had another john boat with us and I thought for sure our time with the otters would be brief. I mean, look at their reactions above. By the time we got the boat stopped and I took my first photo, two of the otters (adults??) had already bolted for the safety of the water. The rest sure looked ready to follow. But as the anchors were deployed and the engines turned off, the otters seemed to quickly forget about us. We spent about 45 minutes watching their antics. Here are some of my favorite photos:
|Giant otters at den site, Pantanal Brazil (8/13)|
I said our boatman Mota spotted these otters, and he did. We were cruising along at a good clip when suddenly the boat slowed. As it did, Danika turned her head and saw the animals on shore and screamed "SEALS!". She quickly recognized her error (no seals in the interior of Brazil...) but as we watched the giant otters, I could see how her initial impression was formed. Below is the seal-like face a giant otter makes when a sibling crawls over its back just after it had gotten comfortable:
|Giant otters, Pantanal of Brazil|
|Curious giant otters|
Several sources list the giant otter as reaching lengths of over 6 feet, making it the longest otter species in the world. Only sea otters are heavier and that is due to the need for thick layers of insulating fat. Still, a 70 pound giant otter is a sight to behold.
You can get some sense of their size in the photo below.
|Giant otter exiting the water|
|Thick fur of giant otter|
|Giant otter grooming its fur|
|Giant otter shaking off water|
|Giant otter climbing river bank|
Next to arrive was the second (adult?) otter that had slipped away at our approach. Look at that tail! And look how easily this otter navigates the slide. The younger otters were smaller and not as well muscled and their struggles getting up the slide showed it. I wondered how they managed when they were younger...
Now that the family was reunited, it was time for some serious sleeping. I believe it was about 9 am when these photos were taken and the sun was not too high in the sky yet. As the otters snuggled in to their rests, I could never get a photo of all seven visible at one time. And I quickly learned that these brothers and sisters just couldn't quite get comfortable:
|Sleeping giant otters|
|Young giant otters|
And it is too bad for you if you happen to try to use your brother's tail as a pillow and he decides that his neck is just too itchy to go unattended. A great look at the massive hind foot of a giant otter:
|Scratching giant otter|
|Front foot of giant otter|
|Giant otter yawning|
|Giant otter emerging from the vegetation|
Soon all was bedlam, with otters coming and going so quickly that I didn't even notice that there were fewer and fewer until suddenly they were gone. I am guessing there was an underwater entrance to that den (the dry season had just begun, so the river would drop substantially as the months progressed) as is common with our otters. Seven otters X 45 minutes = 287 photos. In all that time, no one in either boat spoke above a whisper. We passed that den site three more times on our journeys and never saw a single otter. It was a classic "right place/right time" situation and I am glad the photos came out as well as they did.
You can imagine that we were feeling a bit spoiled at this point. It is hard to quantify: Giant otters are endangered and pretty rare but they are seen regularly enough in protected areas that many tour groups get to see them. But not all views are as leisurely as ours was. In fact, the Van Niel family saw giant otters once before (in Peru), but they swam past us without as much as a greeting. So although these were not "lifers" the experience was a highlight of the trip. At the time, though, we didn't realize that our otter adventures were only half over....
Twenty-four hours after our giant otter adventure, we found ourselves in a different stretch of the Paraguay River looking for the elusive jaguar. Instead, we found the Pantanal's other otter, the neotropical otter.
|Neotropic otter, Pantanal of Brazil|
Smaller (only about 4.5 feet long) and much lighter, the neotropic otter more closely resembles the North American river otter I am used to. This individual seemed completely unconcerned by our presence. I do not even remember him lifting his head from the grisly task of eating that fish.
|Neotropical otter eating fish|
|Neotropical otter, Pantanal Brazil|
|Neotropical otter with fish on the Paraguay River|
|Neotropic otter eating fish in the Pantanal|
When he came up with his next fish, he chose a decidedly more secluded location. We sat and watched as he ate, marveling at our luck. Two species of otter in two days. According to Karen our guide, sightings of this otter are rarer than the giant otter.
|Neotropic otter in the wild|
|Sunset on the Paraguay River, Brazil|