Giant Otters

Amazon Basin

We were in Peru, deep in the Amazon jungle on the Madre de Dios River, boarding a raft with hopes of finding the Giant Otters.


Although they are listed as endangered, there was a chance we might see them on an oxbow lake. The world’s largest freshwater carnivores, Pteronura basiliensis primarily eat fish, especially piranha; they also eat crabs, snakes, and small caiman.

Giant Otter

The raft had been specially constructed for viewing these otters. It was a flat, wooden platform built on top of two canoes. The two canoeists paddled in unison.


Although the otters are highly social and vocal mammals, we were asked to be quiet and still, for they are rare, and getting rarer.

We had questions. How giant are they?


Males are in the range of five feet long (1.5 m), not including the tail; and females are slightly smaller.


How rare are they?


Found only in South America, they have already gone extinct in some countries. Sadly, there are  only 1,000-5,000 individuals left on earth (Wikipedia). They are on the International Conservation Red List (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species). 


Wikipedia giant otter overview.


So we sat still and quiet, looking for this special otter.


I’ve seen both wild River Otters and Sea Otters. Adorable and quiet, they endearingly flip and spin around. In Monterey Bay, it is common to see the Sea Otters cracking open mussels on their chests, so cute.


So I thought I knew what to expect if we did find the Giant Otters…but I was wrong.

Howler Monkeys

There’s a constant feeling of intimidation and mystery on the Amazon. Howler monkeys woke us up that dark morning, making booming, howling sounds. I thought we were in a tornado or something.


The guide told us Giant Otters eat piranha. I looked around me. Caiman were gliding past us. We’re on this raft without railings, and there are piranha and caiman swimming around.

White caiman, Manu Nat’l. Park, Peru




And some really big birds the size of pheasants were watching us, croaking and hissing. Hoatzins.


Fortunately, we found the Otters. I was initially shocked at their size. The size of a human. Five feet long, plus the tail.

Giant Otter

They were not the least bit concerned with us. We were the intruders. They were in their element, frolicking and boisterous.

Giant Otter

They would disappear under the dark water, come up with a fish and tear at it with great abandon, using their large, webbed forepaws. They were barking and snorting, and gregarious.


Giant Otters

Soon we quietly paddled away. I hoped they would always have this beautiful place to hunt and thrive.

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

Piranha. Courtesy Wikipedia.




104 thoughts on “Giant Otters

  1. Five feet long? Plus a tail? Yikes I hope you kept hands and feet tucked in nicely. I might of thought one would make a shallow dive on board that flat boat. The photos are incredible so thanks to Athena. The one of the otter about to munch the fish for lunch is Nat Geo worthy in my humble opinion. I had never heard of these otters Jet. Again I come away from your blog more knowledgeable than when I arrived. In this case a bit freaked out by the enormity of the creature but still more knowledgeable. Have a great weekend.

    • Fun reading your comment, Sue. We were so happy to have had the chance to see these beautiful and big otters, I’m glad to have introduced you, Sue. Thanks so much for your kind words and engaged interest, much appreciated.

  2. Seeing nature up close and at ease is such a thrill Jet. We remember somehow that yes,
    we are part of this beautiful expanse. You are so fortunate to have these opportunities.
    The Giant Otter, how very stunning. He is a big one and hungry too. Great photos of him
    and the other wildlife you saw while visiting this most beautiful place. thanks for taking us along

    • It is a great pleasure to take you along on the giant otter adventure, Eddie. Thanks so very much for your interest and kind words. My best wishes to you for a lovely weekend.

  3. Remarkable captures, Jet. What a special adventure, thank you for sharing, Jet.
    I didn’t know they are as long as 5 feet. Love the beautiful birds. 🙂

    • I’ve read that piranhas fight back on the otters, and sometimes cause harm. It’s a brutal world down there in the Amazon. Thanks very much for your visit, Mike. Your comment gave me a smile. 🙂

  4. Great post! Clyde sees otters early in the morning on the New River. Recently he repeated the sound he heard from one and a whole group started to come after him! He jumped in the car and came home!

    • I’m not so sure you would rather be in the Amazon, Jan — it is the most uncomfortable place I have ever been. It rains a lot, is so humid that Bic lighters don’t work, and the bugs are relentless. I’m struggling with the same Bay Area heat today, but it’s dry heat, if that helps. Where I am we are cloaked in the smoke from the Butte and Nevada Co. fires. I think it’s bad in lots of places, I hope you’ve got A/C or a swimming pool. Always a treat to “see” you, thank you, Jan.

  5. What a wonderful Amazonian “safari”! Giant otters, hoatzins, caiman… For me, it’s a red-letter day to find a river otter on a trout stream, but Peruvian adventures of this sort must really open the portals of magnificence. Thanks for sharing your experiences there!

    • Thank you for your great comment, Walt. It is a red-letter day to find a river otter, makes the river a long-lasting memory. And yes, it was one adventure after another down there in Peru, the days were really full, and great fun. It is a joy to share it with you, thank you.

  6. What a line-up of interesting creatures! From the giant otters (who look quite a bit more intimidating than their smaller relatives!) and the caymen, howler monkeys (he was quite ferocious looking, too!), piranha, and the big hoatzins! You were brave to sit so close to the edge of the boat! ha

    • I’m really glad the fish (i.e. piranha) were not literally jumping that day, being so close to the edge. I enjoyed your comment, Nan, and your observations on the interesting creatures. Every day was a “line-up” to keep us guessing who was nearby. Fun to have you along.

  7. Giant otters? Yikes! Hoatzins? Eek! Caiman? Uh oh! Biting bugs? No doubt! These are amazing creatures in an amazing location! I love reading your Amazon adventures, Jet, and with each one feel less and less inclined to make that particular trip – but I learn from you, and this post was hugely entertaining and that is more than enough. The photograph of the otter clasping the fish is intimidating (more so if you are a fish) and reason enough to keep fingers and toes inside the boat. As if piranhas and caimans etc. weren’t reason enough…
    We were lucky enough to see river otters this summer, and their curiosity and water antics were a delight to watch – so I can only imagine how much fun it was for you to observe the giants.
    Thanks for this post, and have a wonderful weekend!

    • I so enjoyed this animated response to the otters, pc. I am smiling as I type. Life in the Amazon is very special, but it is not always human-friendly. It is a joy and honor to share it with you here. An otter joy. 🙂

  8. What a privilege to see these rare otters! Thanks for braving the hot steamy jungles to bring us these amazing photos, Jet. Glad there were no incidents involving piranhas or caiman. 🙂

    • You hit it right with it being a privilege to see the giant otters, Eliza. Thanks very much for visiting today, I’m glad I had the opportunity to share these beauties with you.

  9. These creatures are strong, smart, playful and take good care of themselves. You have to remember that their habitat is shared with deadly opponents. They have been around for long time. Great post my friend. 🙂

    • They are a really special creature on this earth, and a joy to share with you, HJ. You’re right, they have been around for a long time…and I hope they will continue to be. My warmest thanks–

  10. I wouldn’t call the giant otters cute like their river cousins …. but they are amazing creatures! Thank you for a great post. It’s a priveledge to witness the nature of the Amazon through your eyes. 💛

    • I am glad you enjoyed the giant otters, Val, and you’re right, they’re not necessarily cute, but they are amazing. It is very much a privilege for me to share the Amazon nature with you, Val, and I thank you for your very kind words and visit.

  11. An otter joy. Ha! Good one. I was amazed at how large these otters are (and excited that you, and we, got to see them), but the one eating the fish looks like a puma/mountain lion wearing big, black rubber gloves! They’re enormous!! I thought the Hoatzins were rather unusual-looking, too. Thanks for letting me tag along on this fascinating trip, Jet.


    • Fun exchange, Janet, and how fun to have you come along to the Amazon. I enjoyed your description of the fish-eating otter, and completely agree. The Amazon is not a very hospitable place for humans, so sometimes the vicarious version works really well. Many thanks–

  12. We were in Manu last year and I’ll bet it was even the same oxbow lake we visited! What tremendous viewing of wildlife! We watched an otter lose a fish to a caiman who leaped out of the water and snatched it from his hands. The otter family attacked the caiman and within a minute the caiman knew it was defeated and escaped. The hoatzins are worth a blog of their own as they are very different from most other birds.

  13. WOW…I love otters but can’t even begin to imagine coming across the Giant Otters….and indeed they are giant. When you said about sitting on the raft which has no railings etc….with all manner of amazing creature gliding by – I did wonder how that must have felt. That is really experiencing life in the raw….Fabulous post – Thank you Jet.

    • Your use of the word “raw” is spot-on, Janet. Indeed it was experiencing life in the raw there. I’m delighted you enjoyed the otter post and could be with me there. Thanks so much for your visit and kind words, nice to see you back, always a joy.

  14. I think this was one of your most amazing posts (though it seems that all of them are quite thought provoking!) Who knew there were otters this huge? We have them in the creek and the Rogue River, but they’re rather cute and cuddly looking. Those teeth getting ready to bite into the fish look like they could do some serious damage. You manage to look quite sedate and relaxed despite the possibly dangerous critters floating under and around your railingless raft. I suspect you are far braver than I am!

    • I so enjoyed your comment, Gunta, thank you. Yes, those teeth exposed for chomping the fish do not remind us of otters, do they? And yes, in spite of some of the dangers of nature, I am more relaxed and at peace outdoors than anywhere else. A raft with caiman and piranha is like riding on a magic carpet for me. ha. My thanks for your visit, a great pleasure.

  15. What a heart-pounding voyage to view the wonderful giant otters! I’m not sure if it was the hissing Hoatzins or the caiman and piranha circling your rail free platform, but the atmosphere behind these photos could be felt with every word. I always worry I’m going to trip and fall off a simple boat dock while taking photos without having to worry about what is lurking in the water. Thank you for sharing this amazing adventure and the information concerning their threatened status. I loved the photos of the giant otters, especially the webbed feet.

    • ACI, great fun to read your comment, I’m smiling. With all your kayaking adventures, I am certain you would do wonderfully on this raft. But I’m not so sure Gabby would’ve liked it entirely. It’s been a delight to share the giant otters with you. Thanks so very much. I hope you are enjoying the college football this weekend, I am sure you both are.

  16. Wonderful story Jet. Your photos and narrative of this amazing adventure into unspoiled wilderness left me feeling like I was right there in the boat. The giant otter grasping a fish is priceless. Learned a lot – very glad you shared.

    • I am glad you enjoyed the giant otter visit, Kirt, and good that you could just read about the piranhas. 😉 I so appreciate your visits and comments, and hope you have a great week ahead.

    • I am glad you enjoyed the giant otter visit, Kirt, and good that you could just read about the piranhas. 😉 I so appreciate your visits and comments, and hope you have a great week ahead.

  17. I am learning a lot about nature in far-flung places from your blog! I was fascinated with the hoatzin as well since as a child I learned the young have claws on their wings which help them move through the trees. Maybe you’ll do a blog post on them someday!

    • Great to hear from you, Cindy, thank you. The hoatzins are indeed fascinating, and I enjoyed hearing about the young having claws on their wings. Isn’t that crafty? Helps them climb trees until their wings form, which is handy in the rainforests where there are so many trees. I think it’s great that you learned this as a child. I see a hoatzin post in our future. Many thanks–

  18. Jet, I think I would have sat in the middle of the raft… Just saying…
    What an adventure! Beautiful photos and great descriptions!

    • A pleasure to hear from you, Dave, thanks so much for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the giant otter post and a trip to the Amazon. While I did sit on the edge of the raft, I never dipped any body parts in, in spite of the blazing temperatures. lol.

  19. wow!, i didn’t expect them to be almost adult human size. that is gigantic and so incredible! and what an adventure to be gliding over the amazon on a flat raft without railing, it must be an amazing experience! what a beautiful and interesting world we have Jet. it’s truly a privilege to read your posts! i am very thankful! 🙂 great photos as always!

  20. Fantastic, Jet! Why are they endangered? Is it because man has been usurping their habitat, or do me hunt them for some reason?
    It’s hard to believe an animal that eats piranha, is endangered…. I mean piranhas can eat a human!!!
    (I’ll let you know when the book arrives!}

    • You are right on both counts, Resa. Giant otters’ current greatest threat is loss of habitat; and in the 1950s and 1960s their pelts were hunted nearly to extinction. Thank you for taking an interest in this beautiful animal. (please do) Always a pleasure, Resa–

  21. Your days are just one adventure after another, aren’t they Jet? I couldn’t help but notice the ankle gaiters (or maybe they’re just nice socks) in the picture. LOL Still haven’t got mine yet, but soon.

    As big as a human? Caimans and piranha in the water … no rails? Sheesh! I’m glad your guides were as careful as they were knowledgeable. Great post, and I especially love the one of him eating the fish.

    • I’m delighted to hear from you, Shannon, have been thinking of you in the midst of Harvey’s terror, hoping you and your family are okay. Re giant otters. I had not discovered the gaiters yet in that photo, those are my socks pulled up over my ankles, trying to stem some of the mosquito bites. That trip was the worst ever for mosquito bites, I had 267 bites by the end of it. So very glad to hear from you, my friend, and I send my blessings to you all as you recover from the devastation. Be well.

      • LOL Counting mosquito bites. Sounds like a typical summer here. Thank you for the well wishes. We are recovered but otherwise very behind in life’s detail. Will be a while before I’m back to blogging again, I’m afraid. :/

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