An Otter Family Album

  Compiled and photographed by
J Scott Shannon

For 25 years, I have observed a population of seacoast-dwelling otters at Trinidad Bay in far-northwest California. From the beginning of my observations in June, 1983, to the end of 2007, I've seen my otters 4,796 times, which is probably more than any other living person has seen these animals in their natural state. It has been the greatest privilege of my life to chronicle the history of 5 generations of otters here.

Although these otters make their living in the sea, they are not the familiar sea otters of the central California coast. My critters are North American otters - the species Lontra canadensis - what are commonly referred to as "river otters." Of all our native wildlife, river otters are usually among the most difficult to observe. Over most of the U.S., otters are trapped and persecuted by man, so they are typically very wary of humans. My otters are so easy to watch precisely because no one here harms them, so they have no reason to hide themselves.

In these pictures, you will see that the otters live in close association with humans, at least during the summer months. Don't let the manmade props deceive you; this drama is very real. These otters may appear tame, but it is more accurate to describe them as casual. Humans are a neutral presence to them. They pay so little attention to people, I don't think they even recognize me, despite my having been in their immediate proximity on literally thousands of occasions.

Although I was educated as a biologist, my motivation for studying these animals runs much deeper than that. From the start, this has been my own very personal quest for knowledge. What follows is only a tiny fragment of the wonders these otters have shown me over these many years...

So now, if you'd like to meet my otters, just click here, and welcome to their world...

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Articles and Papers:

(March 17, 2008) Abstract: Summary of Research Findings

(November 21, 2007) Article: J. David Solf - Otter Research Pioneer

(February 14, 2005) Article: How I Identify Individual Otters

(November 30, 2002) Article: The Origin of the "River Otter"

(April 1, 2001) Manuscript: Behavioral Development of Otters

(October 2, 2008) Manuscript: Pinnipeds and Carnivores: Phyletic Relationships and Classification

Papers and Notes published in the IUCN Otter Specialist Group Bulletin :

Behaviour of Otters in a Coastal Marine Habitat: Abstract of Work in Progress (1993)

Progress on California Otter Research: 1991 (1992)

Progress on Californian Otter Research (1991)

Social Organisation and Behavioural Ontogeny of Otters (Lutra canadensis) in a Coastal Habitat in Northern California (1989)

Note published in the Proceedings of the V. International Otter Colloquium, Hankensbüttel, Germany, 1991 :

Social Organization, Reproductive Behavior, and Pup Development in a Coastal Population of Otters [Lontra (=Lutra) canadensis]

Notes published in the Proceedings of the VII. International Otter Colloquium, Trebon, Czech Republic, Part III, 1998 :

Behavioral Development of Otters (Lutra canadensis) in a Marine Coastal Habitat (1998)

Generational Change in Affiliation Patterns in a Society of Marine Coastal Otters (Lutra canadensis) (1998)

Intrafamilial Killings in a Marine Coastal Population of Otters (Lutra canadensis) (1998)

Text and Photographs Copyright © 2001-2024 by J Scott Shannon, All Rights Reserved. Contact: