A WILDLIFE photographer has captured amazing pictures of an otter catching a killing a conger eel at least twice its size.
Richard Shucksmith took the sequence of pictures while observing otters on the island of Sanday, Orkney.
The fearless otter seized the powerful eel – estimated to be around 6ft long – by the head.
Conger eels are themselves ferocious predators and have been known to attack humans. An irish diver had a chunk bitten out of his face by a conger last year at a depth of 25m.
Shucksmith – who admits to having an “otter obsession” – took the picture as part of a three year project to document the otters’ struggle for survival.
He also photographed the animals taking unusual prey such as puffin and octopus to stay alive.
His images also show the brutality meted out among otters as they struggle for scant food ahead of the winter months.
Richard, an award-winning photographer and ecologist, said it was not uncommon for cubs to perish during winter as their normal food – fish – migrate to deeper water.
Dr Shucksmith said: “It’s not about killer instinct, it’s about survival. It can be really hard for otters.
“It’s a battle for survival. Otters usually want to feed on fish but in winter inshore fish migrate to deeper water.
“Particularly this year there are a lot more octopus about. I’ve never seen otters catch octopus with such constancy.”
The hungry otter have even turned to birds to stay alive.
Dr Shucksmith added: “It is rare to see an otter catch a puffin.
“I was astounded to see the female otter catch a puffin which it proceeded to eat.”
The 41-year-old also described the worrying moment he saw a young male otter beaten up.
“His mum had given a beating to push him away from her range at the same time as she was pushing him away the male otter came and also gave him a good beating.
“This went on for over an hour and the poor young cub who had only just reached independence was scared and shocked at the ferocity of these attacks.”
He continued: “When he moved it showed he had a limp and his leg had been hurt in the attack. He hobbled down to the water where he stood looking at the sea for over a minute.”
But otters are born survivors.
He added: “I went back a few days later and found him again and he was happily feeding along the coast.”
Dr Shucksmith said otter families are very close and it can be hard when it is time of the males to leave.
“He didn’t want to go. He didn’t know what to do. But some male cubs show a lot of independence after 12 months. They move on a lot easier than some of the needy cubs.”