On the Trail of the Sea Cat

Marine Otters (Lontra felina) Chile

I spent 6 weeks in South America this past winter, getting the first-ever in-depth coverage of the smallest marine mammal in the world : the Marine Otter.  No larger than a housecat – it is sometimes referred to “El Gato del Mar” or “The Sea Cat” – this little otter is only found along the coldwater coasts of southern Peru and Chile, and is endangered by a long history of fur-hunting and competition with fishermen.

This was a difficult project, to say the least. When I could even find the animals, I had to shoot them from a moving boat – which was typically getting hammered (along with the photographer) by the rough seas. In fact, I lost my primary telephoto lens (the Nikon 200-400) to a rogue wave, on the first day of the shoot.  (Happily, FEDEX was able to get me another lens within a week..)

To be honest, some key parts of the story never came together : I was unable to get pictures of these fast-moving otters underwater, and camera traps gave me only a handful of fleeting portraits.  But if I didn’t get everything I wanted, I have the satisfaction of knowing I got more pictures of this little-known animal than have ever been taken – pictures that will help tell their important story.  Pictures can be powerful advocates, and I have made these pictures available to those working to save this wonderful, but threatened, animal.

Marine Otter female carries octopus back to its cub

Nikon D3, misc lenses