Wildlife Artist - Martin Ridley

Images of otters (Lutra lutra)

EUROPEAN OTTER PICTURES

There are 13 known species of otter in the world but the focus here is on the only one found in the UK. The European (or Eurasian) otter is found across Europe, parts of Asia and north Africa. Fieldtrips studying otters around the Shetland's and the West Coast of the Scottish Highlands in shallow sea lochs have provided my best encounters with this elusive mammal. All these otter pictures and paintings are by Martin Ridley.

Image of otters amongst the rapids - Original oil painting
Shooting the Rapids, Otters

Original oil painting
image 20 x 24 inches
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Image of an otter eating a fish - Fetlar Shetland Isles
Otter with Catch

Original oil painting
image 20 x 14 inches
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The otter is a large member of the weasel family (mustelids), which includes badgers, polecats, martens, weasels, stoats and mink. In the wild they are elusive, secretive animals and live in undisturbed rivers, streams and estuaries. In the early 1960’s they were on the verge of extinction due to river pollution, habitat loss and hunting. Now with full legal protection, cleaner rivers and managed habitat it is returning to its former haunts, although its distribution will always be limited by the availability of fish.

The male otter is called a dog and the female a bitch. As otters are very territorial they tend to live alone, except during mating and for a period, dependent on the mother, after the cubs are born. They have large lungs and can stay submerged under water for 4 minutes, often swimming 400 metres before resurfacing. They can reach speeds of 12 km/h under water and can outrun man on land.

Otter pictures -  Otter and peat-stained river
Otter and Peat-stained River

Original oil painting
image 22 x 36 inches
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Otter pictures - Loch Ailort
Loch Ailort, Otter (Lutra lutra)

Original oil painting
image 22 x 36 inches
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Otters have short legs, webbed feet and claws, long stream-lined body, small ears and a broad muzzle with sensitive whiskers around the snout to help detect prey. Their specialist double layer fur equips them for swimming in very cold water. When they are immersed a dense woolly under fur keeps them warm while the longer outer guard hairs waterproof the otter and streamline it for swimming. Otters have to regularly groom their coats and keep them in top condition. It is a matter of survival.

The European otter has an acute sense of sight, smell and hearing. The eyes are placed high on the head so that it can see when the rest of the body is below water.

Advice on how to observe wild otters

The following tips may be useful if you're planning some otter watching.

WHERE ARE THE BEST PLACES TO LOOK FOR OTTERS ?
  • Far easier around the remote Scottish coast
  • Shallower water in bays and lochs
  • Quieter areas with minimal human disturbance
WHEN IS A GOOD TIME TO LOOK FOR OTTERS ?
  • Anytime of year
  • Coastal otters are often highly active by daylight.
  • They seem to like fishing at low tide.
  • Ripples from a swimming otter are more easily spotted when water is flat calm.
  • Visit before or after everyone else, out of season or on a rainy day.
    Otters will venture into areas they would otherwise avoid.
WHAT SIGNS DO OTTERS LEAVE ?
  • Spraints mark prominent places on the otter highways
    (They are fishy smelling, fish bone droppings, black and oily when fresh)
  • Footprints in the sand or mud
WHAT ARE THE RECOMMENDED TECHNIQUES FOR OBSERVING OTTERS ?
  • Wear appropriate clothing for the weather conditions so that you are safe and comfortable. Try not to wear bright or pale colours.
  • Take a pair of binoculars or a telescope
  • Walk the coastline avoiding standing silhouetted on the skyline. Scan each stretch of coast using your optics. Spend twenty minutes quietly watching a bay before moving on to the next.
  • Look particularly along the water's edge where an otter may have landed (they can be very camouflaged). In the water otters are most likely to be seen fishing in and around kelp beds. Preferring shallower water they are not usually far from the shore.
  • They have an excellent sense of smell. You must not have the wind blowing from you towards the otter. Once you are detected the otter will disappear.
  • Move slowly and quietly if an otter stares at you keep very still. Their eyesight is very poor if you don't move it will probably decide you aren't a danger and will relax again.
  • Watch gulls they often wait near a feeding otter for any scraps
  • Learn all you can about otter behaviour. Prepare by further reading. I recommend the excellent book "The Track of the Wild Otter" by Hugh Miles.


As a priority try not to alarm any wild otter you get close to. Please do not add to the disturbance they are trying to avoid.

 
 
Underwater view of an otter chasing a sea trout. An original oil painting by Martin Ridley
"The Pursuit", Otter and Sea Trout

Original oil painting
image 19 x 24 inches
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BELOW THE SURFACE

This otter painting was produced following a kayaking fieldtrip along the shores of Loch Shieldaig and Loch Torridon. I added a fitting to my paddle so that I was able to attach an underwater camera. Once out on the water above flowing seaweeds I set up the camera and simply pressed the ten second timer before lowering the paddle and attached camera under the kayak. The resulting photos were rather hit and miss and were never going to provide a photo of an otter chasing a fish, but they did provide me with enough of a perspective from beneath the surface to produce this painting.

Shop Items

Underwater otter prints for sale

"The Pursuit", Otter and Sea Trout

Available as a limited edition print


Otter art prints from Aquila

Prints are signed by the artist
Reproduced from an original oil otter painting
The prints are on Somerset Velvet watercolour paper
(100% cotton, acid free)


Underwater otter prints for sale

European Otter Print

Available as a framed print


Otter art prints from Aquila


Reproduced from an original oil otter painting
Please note: These European otter prints are produced following your order and are posted to you direct from the printers.
The prints are on a heavy weight canvas on a backing board and are protected with a matt laminate.