Anatomy of a photo #76: Otter tongue (and fish)


Luckily the otter didn't chomp its tongue along with the fish

I see otter tongues with some regularity, either while they are eating and sometimes while they are grooming on shore between swims. Usually though it is a quick flash inside of the mouth as they are chewing, or a quick flick out as they clean themselves. Either way, the tongue is usually partially obscured by either food or fur. Which is why I like this picture of an otter’s tongue. There is food in its mouth, but its tongue sticks out past it and shows off the shape.

I came across this otter, as I do most of the ones that I photograph- while kayaking. I’d been on a mini kayak camping trip with a friend over a three day weekend. The first morning we woke up on Tomales Bay I got myself ready for an early morning photography and wildlife paddle. I asked my friend Brian if he wanted to get up and come along, but he declined in favor of sleep. I of course saw otters, and he was of course crushed when I told him about it. He had never seen otters in the wild, but they’d always been one of his favorite animals. I din’t see any otter tongues that day though.

When I set out the next day for my early morning kayak photography session, a very sleepy Brian definitely joined me. I’d never come across otters in the bay two mornings in a row, and when I first tried pointing them out to Brian he thought I was joking. It was a disbelief that was not to last, as we followed them from a discreet distance, I with my camera and Brian with binoculars.

We watched them for sometime as they swam in the water hunting the shoreline. Every now and then they would leave the water for a quick romp on shore, rolling and wrestling and grooming. Many times they were just heads and tails sticking out of the water as they coursed along in their small pack of five.

Mostly when they caught fish they stayed fully in the water to eat them, just tilting their heads back as they munched. This otter was the only one that I saw emerge with a fish that morning. I photographed the whole process, and because of the tongue, this was one of my favorite images.

The ISO was set high- 800, because it was a very grey and foggy day, and the light as a little dim. I needed that high ISO to give me a shutter speed of 1/640 of a second while my aperture was opened up as wide as it would go. I wanted this high of a shutter speed for two reasons- first to capture the action, to freeze it, but also because when I kayak I hand hold the camera and I didn’t want any camera shake. I was using a longish lens- 280mm- and the longer the lens, the more you have to compensate your shutter speed to avoid camera shake.

Well, that’s most of the nitty gritty. We of course went on to have a great rest of the day kayaking, seeing bat rays and phalaropes, but that is all part of another story.

For more animal tongues, you can have a look at these animals-

Sea Lion tongue
Gull’s tongue while swallowing a whole starfish
Tule Elk tongue
White-tailed Kite tongue (it’s a type of bird/hawk/raptor
Song Sparrow tongue while singing

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
This entry was posted in Anatomy of a photo, kayak photography, nature photography, otters, tongues and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Anatomy of a photo #76: Otter tongue (and fish)

  1. graciehart1 says:

    Awesome photo. The otter looks like he’s having a great morning.

    • Thanks! I think you are right, the otter was quite pleased with its morning catch. I must say however that I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an otter in the wild that didn’t seem to be enjoying life. Thanks for stopping by

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