In this, the first part of new series entitled “Seeing Sea Otters in Places One Wouldn’t Expect to See Sea Otters”, I will document the times and places that I’ve encountered otters unexpectedly.
As this has only happened to me once, it is, admittedly. a bit of a short series. More of a single blog post really.
My first (and so far only) unexpected otter encounter occurred on the island of Perhentian Besar, the largest island in the Perhentian group.
Located off the East coast of Malaysia, the Perhentians are the hidden gems of the South China Sea. All white sandy beaches, palm trees and sparkling turquoise water. They’re perfect for diving, snorkeling or lounging and, unlike most tropical islands, staying there won’t break the bank.
While Perhentian Kecil, the smaller of the two resort islands, is intended for the luxury travellers, Besar better suits those on a budget. Which doesn’t mean you’ll be roughing it.
My tour groups arrival in Besar was warmly welcomed with a cold drink and the keys to our own individual wooden bungalows metres from the beach.
There are also none of the restrictions you might find in other island resorts. For example, although our lodgings had a restaurant it was perfectly acceptable to wander over to any of the other establishments on the island and have drinks or dinner. You could even hire a boat to take you to the 5-star island, if you fancied a glimpse at how the other half live, a lobster dinner, or a bit of pampering at a day spa.
On our first evening on Perhentian Besar, my fellow travellers really fancied a drink with dinner. Because Malaysia is a majority muslim country, most of our trip had been dry. The guesthouses and homestays we’d stayed in over the past 8 days did not allow alcohol and neither did our digs on the island.
The idea of being without alcohol for another day didn’t bother me, but others in my group were starting to have withdrawals, so we walked up the beach to a nearby restaurant and bar.
We got a table on the sand, ordered our first round and were watching the sunset when I caught sight of something sleek and dark slip under our table. I looked down expecting to see a cat. We’d encountered cats and kittens at every place we’d visited on the Malaysian peninsula.
But what was under our table was no cat.
It was an otter.
On an island. In the middle of the South China Sea.
Apparently, Malaysia is home to four species of otter; the Eurasian otter, the hairy-nose otter, the small clawed otter and the smooth-coated otter. Given its sleek coat and preference for swimming in the sea, it was most likely the latter. Though I’m clearly, no otter oracle.
At the time, my knowledge of otters was limited to The Wind in the Willows and children’s stories about the Devonshire countryside or the Scottish coast.
Whoever heard of an otter on a tropical island?
So I did what any normal person would do when faced with an unexpected otter. I screamed and jumped onto the table. A perfectly rational response, I thought.
My travel companions thought this was hysterical. Then our tour leader, Hannah, explained that this particular otter was a local and a permanent fixture at this restaurant. A mascot that could come and go as it pleased.
Well, this otter might have been used to tourists but it certainly didn’t like them very much. It spent the next 30 minutes darting between tables nipping and biting at the exposed ankles of the other restaurant patrons.
Soon, other people were sitting on their tables, yelping in shock and calling out:
“What the hell is that?”
“Is that an otter?”
and “Ow, bloody otter just bit me!”
As well as many other non-English exclamations that I was confident were also otter related.
My travel companions, who’d found my reaction so hilarious were soon sipping their beers with their feet raised in the air to keep from getting bit by the “harmless, little mammal”.
Eventually, the restaurant staff noted the shrieking, the diners on tables and the beer drinkers in weird yoga poses and realised their mascot was becoming a problem. So they shooed it away back into the sea, where it floated on its back keeping its beady little eyes on us…and our ankles.