Great hunting skills displayed by one of Corks resident otters (video below) 

Green campus Intern, Killian Kelly

From a distance, I assumed it was a seal. I’d seen one a few weeks back down by Grand Parade. Floating along, it then plunged its head under, hunching its back upward, and lifted its long pointed tail into the air behind it, before following the rest of its body beneath the water.  Staring at ripples left behind I reached for my phone. It didn’t take long until it popped back up with what appeared to be an eel between its paws – a solid favourite in the otter diet. What followed was an extremely impressive display of hunting skills by one of Cork’s resident otters.

Myself and other fortunate onlookers got the chance to observe this happy otter energetically diving up and down in search for food. Each time, it would without fail, return with something either between its claws or its teeth. I was surprised at how large it was. About 3.5 to 4-feet from head to tail. Having never seen one before, I found myself in the rare position, watching one playfully dive up and down in search for food – strangely enough, in the very heart of Cork City.

There are 13 different species of otter, the largest type being the aptly named the Giant Otter from South America which reaches an impressive 6 feet in length. In Ireland, we have one species being the Eurasian Otter. These otters can grow up to 4.5 feet in length from head to tail and incredibly, are known to eat anywhere from 15% to 25% of its own body weight each day, which can explain this guy’s relentless energy hunting in the Lee.

Intelligence

With so much feeding needed each day, otters have become extremely innovative. They are admired for their diverse tool use. Otters often wrap crabs in seaweed to immobilise them as they pick away at the bits they want, and the bits they don’t want. They also use rocks as anvils, laying them on their chests, while using stones as hammers to open up stubborn shells or pummel spiky sea urchins to remove their dangerous spines.

Impressive right? It gets better. If an otter comes across a particular rock or stone that they like and think does a good job, they will store it in a pouch of skin under the arm for feeding time later on. While this is certainly amusing behaviour from what is already a very likeable creature, it also shows high levels of intelligence displaying what Hall and Schaller describe as “an anticipation of use that goes beyond the immediate situation.”

Otters in Cork

Otters were first noticed in the Cork city in 2006. The School of Biological, Environmental and Earth Science at UCC have been studying them closely ever since. Having heard so much about the otters in Cork, and knowing that they tend to be difficult to observe, I was surprised to find myself only metres away from one, not once, but twice within ten days.

There are known to be at least 11 otters in the north and south channels of the River Lee. Given the area where the sightings took place, and the short time between them, I’m guessing it was the same otter. Also, as otters are generally known to be elusive and shy creatures, this individual seemed uncharacteristically extroverted, completely unphased by the ‘oohing’ and ‘awing’ of spectators close by.

During the video, while chewing some of its catch, it can be seen taking a brief and curious glance towards me and my phone. At another point (0.30 seconds), it pops up gnawing on an eel. See the video below.

So much energy 😀

Love watching this Otter! Spotted just outside Earth Café Cork on Grand Parade, Co. Cork. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for more of this! 😀 Find us on – FB – https://www.facebook.com/UCCGreenCampus/ Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/?hl=en Twitter – https://twitter.com/?lang=en Otter Fota Wildlife Park West Cork Animal Welfare Group Ltd. The River Lee UCC Biomedical Science Society Biodiversity Ireland Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences, UCC

Posted by UCC Green Campus on Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Otter hunting next to Grande Parade, Co. Cork during the month of May 2018.

Their diet consists mostly of fish and eels, yet they certainly aren’t fussy eaters, commonly opting for birds, frogs, crayfish, crabs, and other invertebrates – really anything they can get their hands on. Their varied and unspecific diet can also be an issue though, as otters, like most other marine animals, often eat plastic and other pollutants that can pose a great threat to their health.

In many European countries, the Eurasian otter populations are considered unstable, and for the most part, are listed as vulnerable species. Yet, in Ireland, the Eurasian otter population remains one of the most stable in Europe, making Ireland an extremely important place for the future of Otters. However, their welfare is coming under threat due to such things as plastic pollution, decreasing water, agricultural practices, increased number of cars, lobster cages and other such interferences to their natural habitat.

Despite the above mentioned, Cork continues to have Otters living amongst the banks of surrounding the River Lee. A common problem in most places with retaining otter populations is the reducing biodiversity of river banks and lake shores, especially in and around urban areas. Otters in Cork, therefore, indicate relatively positive signs of clean water and healthy biodiversity. Preserving the natural features of rivers, lakes and other habitats that attract these otters is therefore hugely important and can help maintain Ireland’s otter population as being one of Europe’s strongholds.

UCC

In University College Cork, to the front of the Main Quad, an avenue slopes down next to the river towards the Gaol Gate entrance. The UCC Green Campus App explains how this “sloped embankment has been enhanced with small ‘plug plant’, giving a perennial mixed meadow that will support a wide diversity of insects and birds.” Small steps to support biodiversity crucial in maintaining and supporting Cork City’s biodiversity, and in turn the health of all Cork’s otters and other animals. More about our b

Have you ever seen these curious creatures in Cork? Be sure to let us know. Better yet, send us any pictures or video’s you may have to our page. Also, if you happen to see these guys in the future around Cork or anywhere else in Ireland, you can also help research efforts by sending the location and date of the sightings to http://www.biodiversityireland.ie/. So keep your eyes peeled for these marvellously charismatic creatures when around the banks of the River Lee, or even in the centre of Cork City. You can find out more about the landscape, heritage and natural resources in UCC here.

A few more fun facts:

  • Mother otters are known to adopt and care for pups that are not their own
  • They have the thickest fur of any mammal in the animal kingdom, having anywhere from 850,000 to 1 million hairs per square inch.
  • “Six million years ago, a hundred-pound otter (the size of a wolf) was on the prowl somewhere in the swampy wetlands of what’s now southwestern China

 Killian Kelly

2018-07-13T14:15:43+00:00