Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

A Fond Farewell?

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In the Field

A Fond Farewell? Northern Vancouver Island region, BC, Canada. August 13, 2014.

Sea Otters are singularly unique and incredibly interesting marine mammals. So many aspects of their biology and physiology are "one of a kind" traits in the world of mammals - including everything from their complete lack of blubber and necessary possession of the densest fur coat in the animal kingdom for insulation through to their incredibly voracious appetite that motivates them to stuff up to 33% of their body weight in food through their mouths per day!

Sea Otters are no slackers when it comes to fascinating behaviours either! This quick kiss between mother otter (laying on her back) and her almost-ready-to-wean kit heralded in one of the most interesting 5 or so minutes of animal behaviour I've ever witnessed. The otter in the near background is an adult male otter. Now male otters are known to be on the...uhhhh...randy side, so to speak. About one minute after the touching moment captured here the male decided that what was coming next wasn't too suitable for Junior's eyes. So...he abruptly and viciously attacked Junior numerous times in a successful effort to drive the kit away. It was painful to watch (and listen to as Junior squealed and cried out as he/she was being pummeled). But in just a few minutes junior left the scene, apparently unhurt. And then the male otter turned his attention to mom. I won't go into details about what followed, but suffice to say that it involved a lot of biting, a near-drowning of the female, and a wrestling match so focused that the male literally swam and rolled the female into the side of our Zodiac. Talk about single-minded...omigawd!

Anyway...I suppose what we witnessed was natural. And I suppose it perpetuates the species. the females survive THAT to bear young is almost beyond me.

Oh...and one final thing - I know of folks that like to swim with humpback whales and other "friendly" marine mammals. A word of caution - make 100% sure there's no male sea otters in the vicinity - since observing the aggravated assault described above I've done a little research and it turns out that when male sea otters get into a sex-driven frenzy they've been known to go for - and kill - inappropriate partners, including seals and even dogs. I can think of many, many better ways to go...

Seeing a larger version of the shot might help convey the intimacy (and pending carnage) of this scene - so here's a 2400 pixel detail for your perusal:

A Fond Farewell? Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.0 MB)


1. This image - in all resolutions - is protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of them (including use as desktop backgrounds or screensavers on your own computer), but unauthorized commercial use of the image is prohibited by law. Thanks in advance for respecting my copyright!

2. Like all wildlife images on this website, the subject is fully wild and completely unconstrained. Besides the potential impact of my presence, nothing has been done to intentionally alter or affect the ongoing behavior of the subject and, of course, there has been no use of any form of bait or other form of wildlife attractants (including vocalizations).

3. This image was captured during my mid-summer "Humpbacks, Orcas, Sea Lions and More!" photo tours in August of 2014. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph aquatic mammals and oceanscapes near the northern tip of Vancouver Island. And, in selected years, I also offer photo tours to locations to capture other highly sought-after subjects, such as various boreal owl species and wildlife of Canada's Arctic. Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

Behind the Camera

A Fond Farewell? Northern Vancouver Island region, BC, Canada. August 13, 2014.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 1425.

Nikon D4s paired with Nikkor AF-S 600mm f4 VR - hand-held from floating Zodiac. VR on in Normal mode.

1/2000s @ f11; -0.33 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting

At the Computer

A Fond Farewell? Northern Vancouver Island region, BC, Canada. August 13, 2014.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF Phase One's Capture One Pro 7. Three raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, differing by a total of 1.4 stops in exposure (as well as differences in highlight and shadow retrieval).

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the three output files from the raw converter using manual masking techniques, minor exposure and contrast tweaks, selective colour desaturation, and selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


A Fond Farewell? Northern Vancouver Island region, BC, Canada. August 13, 2014.

Ten percent of the revenue generated by this image will be donated to Raincoast*.

Species Status in Canada**: Special Concern (April 2007) - protected off the North American coast since 1911.

Back in the late 1800's and early 1900's the Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris) was hunted to near extinction along both the Asian and North American Pacific Coasts. The reason? It's luxuriant coat. Otters are unlike any other aquatic mammal in that they don't use fat or blubber to insulate themselves from the chilling effects of the water they are found in. Instead, they rely on their amazingly thick fur coat for insulation. Their amazing coats have a higher density of hair (up to 150,000 strands of hair per square cm!) than any other animal in existence today. To ensure that this coat serves its insulative purpose, otters spend a disproportionately large amount of time grooming their coat (to ensure its natural oils continue to provide an effective waterproof barrier). Unfortunately, the biological functioning of the otters coat can be easily fouled by contamination by oil and other hydrocarbons - thus making them extremely sensitive to the effective of marine oil spills.

Other fascinating aspects of the biology and behaviour of the sea otter include the use of tools (they will use rocks to break apart shellfish such as sea urchins), and the fact that they have an metabolic rate two to three times higher than other mammals of their size. This means they must eat 23% to 33% of their own body weight DAILY, just to to replace the calories burned through maintaining their body temperature in the cold water environment they live in.

*The Raincoast Conservation Society (and Foundation) is an effective and efficient organization that has been fighting for protection of this unique habitat. If you are looking for a meaningful way to contribute to the conservation of this amazing ecosystem, Raincoast will provide maximal "bang" for your conservation dollars.

**as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada