Otterly Amazing! Surprised by a Cape clawless otter

With the lockdown regulations in South Africa being eased somewhat, many have taken to getting back into the ocean to surf, freedive and swim… Owner of Animal Ocean Steve Benjamin encountered this old Cape clawless otter on one such occasion after a day at sea – and then found him again the next day!

Sharing a moment in an otters den for the evening

Cape clawless otters (also known as African clawless otters, or groot otters) are most often elusive, shy and secretive – but every now and then they allow you a glimpse into their going-abouts!

Steve was lucky enough to encounter one feeding a few evenings ago… “After a day at sea, I was changing out of my wetsuit when other divers mentioned seeing an otter on the rocks. I ran down and found this otter rolling in a sand patch, loving life in the evening light. I had a hunch as to where it would go and disappear into the rocks. I crawled into the boulders in hope of it returning to feed after its sand bath. Miraculously, it did! For the next 40 minutes I watched this otter tuck into a tasty hottentot (local fish) treat. I was lying wedged between freezing wet granite boulders, arms stretched out trying to get video and stills. I used my cellphone light in one hand and a few fingers to try keep focus and take images. The otter didn’t care one bit about me being there with it, in fact I got a sense of relief from the otter as it consumed the fish with glee. This individual was clearly an old animal, with teeth yellowing and canines worn down to pegs.”

Cape clawless otter looks into the sea
A Cape clawless otter holds a fish in its paws and eats

This Cape clawless otter seems to be a resident – Steve came across it again after his initial surprise sighting… “I wandered down to the coast again, with the vague hope of bumping into this enigmatic creature once more – preparing to get lucky but not expecting it. I entered the water and had a wonderful snorkel, forgetting about my “hope”, and on exiting.. there he was again! This time trotting behind some fishermen loading their boat. This local old otter seems to be making it’s way in life feeding on what ever it can; in this case fish scraps. It seems fairly common that otters hang around easy food sources, taking advantage of the quiet nights. I’m still excited and in awe of ocean moments like this and the chance to take images and film.”

Foraging in the shallow kelpy waters

A Cape clawless otter holds a fish and looks into the camera

Foraging seems to be made easier with the dexterous hands of these otters. Here you can see the ‘clawlessness’ of his fingers, and the tiny indents where claws used to be. Otters belong to the family Mustilidae, which also includes badgers, weasels and wolverines (among others!) Mustelids all have serious claws for digging and climbing – it is only the Cape clawless (African) otter that has maximised the sensitivity of their fingers by losing the claws. Both otters and our Cape fur seal friends belong to the Order Carnivora, and are members of the subclad Caniformia (‘dog-like’).

A Cape clawless otter swims with its paws outstretched toward the camera

This old boy was photographed swimming amongst the kelp forest in Simonstown, Cape Town.

Have you seen an of these otters around the Cape Peninsula recently? Perhaps you might meet one when next you hop in for a snorkel!

Have a look at more of Steve’s work on Instagram (@animal_ocean) and at his website www.stevenbenjamin.co.za 🙂