An Otter Runs Through It

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Wildlife

This photograph was awarded “Best of Show” in NANPA (the North American Nature Photography Association) 2015 Showcase.  During the 2012 annual summer spawn of native Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii), a female North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) caught four Cutthroat Trout in the span of just a few minutes, delivering one to each of her three offspring.  The fourth one she ate herself. 

I have photographed otters at this location since 2006 and this was new behavior.  Previously, the female adult would catch a trout with her young in tow, eat the fish, and leave the young to scavenge for the scraps or eggs that fell into the water or onto the log where she ate.  If they tried to grab a bite of the trout, the adult otter would spin away from her offspring and continue eating.  

What was different this year was that one of her young had an injured back with paralyzed back legs.  He was able to swim, but unable to climb out of the water onto the log, so the mother otter caught a trout and placed it in a depression on a low floating log.  Here it was trapped, and the little one could eat free from interference by its siblings, because each had its own trout.  

Slow shutter speed was utilized with panning to blur the background and to give a sense of motion.

The illegal introduction of non-native, predatory lake trout combined with a prolonged drought and the appearance of exotic whirling disease have resulted in a precipitous decline in Yellowstone cutthroat trout.  This has had a cascading impact throughout the ecosystem.  Wildlife species, including Otter, Osprey, Bald Eagle, American White Pelican, and Grizzly bear all depend on native cutthroat trout as a vital food source.