Thursday, October 4, 2012

Giant River Otter - Pantanal, Brazil

A photograph of a giant river otter taken in the Pantanal in Brazil
Giant River Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) - Pantanal, Brazil

Seeing a group of Giant River Otter was one of the highlights of the trip into the Pantanal. We had 2 sightings of different groups. The first sighting was at a den about a kilometer downstream from where we saw the jaguar. We also came across a group hunting in a waterhole by the side of the Trans-Pantenaria. The photographs on this post were from the second sighting.

More photographs inside.

A photograph of a giant river otter taken in the Pantanal in Brazil
Giant River Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) - Pantanal, Brazil

We were on an early morning drive and crossing over a waterhole when I heard splashes. Initially I thought it was just a fish but then I caught sight of two otters raising themselves out of the water and looking at us. I hopped out of the car hoping to get a couple of photographs of them before they disappeared. Surprisingly, they continued to feed and pop up occasionally to check on my whereabouts.

A photograph of a giant river otter taken in the Pantanal in Brazil
Giant River Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) - Pantanal, Brazil

I was able to photograph them for quite sometime and came away with a few photographs that I am happy with. The otters were hunting and a number of photographs that I managed to shoot shows them with fish in their mouths.

A photograph of a giant river otter taken in the Pantanal in Brazil
Giant River Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) - Pantanal, Brazil

The Giant Otter is a social species and lives in family groups of around 8 individuals. Each group is centered around a breeding pair with the other group members sharing roles. The otter is territorial and groups mark their ranges through gland secretions, latrines and vocalisations.

A photograph of a giant river otter taken in the Pantanal in Brazil
Giant River Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) - Pantanal, Brazil

9 distinctive calls or vocalisations have been identified. These calls are used to communicate interest, danger, warnings, aggression and even reassurance. Pups also squeal to attract attention of other members in the group.

A photograph of a giant river otter taken in the Pantanal in Brazil
Giant River Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) - Pantanal, Brazil

The Giant Otter is an apex predator and primarily feeds on fish. It's prey includes catfish and piranhas. It is an opportunistic hunter and is known to prey on crabs, snakes and small caimans if fish are not abundant.  The otter hunts in shallow water as it relies on its eyesight to locate prey. Once a fish is caught the otter will grip the fish in it's front paws and start eating it head first. They catch their own food and consume it immediately.

A photograph of a giant river otter taken in the Pantanal in Brazil
Giant River Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) - Pantanal, Brazil

Unfortunately, according to the IUCN Red List, there are only 1,000 - 5,000 otters in the wild. The otters pelt made it a target for poaches and its fearlessness and tendency to approach people made them easy targets. Between 1959 and 1969 Brazil alone accounted for 1000 - 3000 pelts annually. Current threats include loss of habitat, the concentration of mecury (a byproduct of gold mining) in its diet and water pollution.

A photograph of a giant river otter taken in the Pantanal in Brazil
Giant River Otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) - Pantanal, Brazil

These photographs were taken early in the morning just after sunrise. Since the light wasn't good enough to shoot at a fast shutter speed I had to push u the ISO. The photographs were all taken handheld with the Canon 7D and the 100-400mm lens.



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