By Meg Sommers
North American river otters are a playful lot, and fun to watch. They generally have litters of two or three pups, and are normally not camera shy. Typically, the pups are raised by their mom, and dad is long gone.
Otters in Yellowstone National Park can often be found year-round in the Lamar River. But in late June or early July, one or two families will move into Trout Lake, where the native Yellowstone cutthroat trout begin to spawn.
This requires a lengthy overland journey creating the one time each year when the otters are most vulnerable, but they make the trip. Even the little ones usually survive. The little ones don’t know it at the time, but the rewards will be equal to the risk.
The spawning stream used by cutthroat trout is a shallow little inlet where you can easily watch the fish swim into the gravel and lay their eggs and milt.
The otters will feed 2-4 times a day at the inlet. During the rest of the day, they play and sleep and play again.
Meal times, though, are relatively structured. Mom brings the pups over to the shore near the inlet or a log nearby. The pups then haul out and wait. Mom swims into the inlet to fish. She is usually extremely skilled at this.
There will be several trout in the inlet, and she can (and must) be a faster swimmer than they are. When she catches one, she delivers it to the pup and goes back for more.
In this photo, Baby Bounty, the otter pup has three fish to work on. While you might think that would keep it busy for some time, within 10 minutes the fish were gone!
Meg Sommers is a wildlife and nature photographer who also works as an attorney and part-time judge in Cody, Wyo. She teaches a wildlife photography course in Yellowstone Park for the Yellowstone Association Institute.
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