I’ve never grown a beard for more than two or three days before I was expressly encouraged to shave it off. That is, until I forgot my razor when I went to the Hebridean island of Mull a couple of weeks ago. Of course, I could have gone to the local Spa shop eight miles away and bought a pack of 10 disposables which would ultimately end up in landfill, but my conscience wouldn’t let me.
I’ve never been fond of whiskers, particularly grey ones (the only ones I can grow), and after seven days they were beginning to annoy me. Occasionally, when I looked in the mirror, I wondered what those I met on the island thought of my shaggy look. Did they think I saw this stubbly look as cool or was I just taking advantage of the holiday mood to be downright lazy? Actually, I wasn’t all that bothered what they thought but it did cross my mind briefly to try using my trusty LEATHERMAN, a multi-tool which no self-respecting man should be without and which can perform multiple operations. In the event, I wasn’t sure it would be up to this particular task so I didn’t test it.
I was driving along the coast road south of the Knock estate when I spotted some other whiskers. These were significantly longer than mine and attached to the face of a Eurasian otter. They didn’t look out of place at all and I dare bet that the thought of getting rid of them had never crossed this animal’s mind. Being a photographer, that was the end of my whisker deliberations for the time being. The priority now was to get the camera on him.
Like lots of animals, otters are creatures of habit. They live in holts on the land but never far away from the water. When they set off on their foraging trips, they head off up or down the coastline, hunting for fish and crustaceans, and eating as they go. When they’ve gone far enough and eaten their fill, they’ll rest or head back towards home. You’ve got to keep a sharp lookout for a small dark head popping up in the water or the ‘V’ shaped wake as they swim. Once you get on to them, they’re relatively easy to track although, occasionally, they’ll dive and come up far away. It’s illegal to disturb an otter so you have to keep your distance.
Otters are mustelids, in the same family as badgers, mink, stoats and weasels. They’re on everyone’s tick list because they’re so cute and they’re fun to watch as they slice through weed and often come out with it wrapped around them. They’ll eat snacks in the water but anything that, for you and me, would require a knife and fork, they’ll bring to a nearby rock and climb out. This is the time to get clicking as they make short work of their catch.
But what about its whiskers? I have no idea whether the otter finds them annoying at all but, certainly, they’re a lot more useful than mine. Theirs are so sensitive they allow them to navigate in cloudy water and to pick up the currents from prey to help them find their food. Now if mine were so useful, I’d think about keeping them. But they’re not, so they’re gone as soon as I find my razor!