The Story of the Otters

November 6, 2022  |  Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine

Living on the coast of Maine, hurricanes are not often an issue for us. They often veer east away from Maine, and head up into the maritimes, so we don't usually take a direct hit. What we do get, and in my mind is a lot more fun, is a very angry ocean. As a landscape photographer, those moments when the ocean is especially angry are prime time to get out and photograph. I liken it to going to an impressive fireworks display. The waves come in like a rocket streaming into the sky, and it explodes against the rocky coastline the way that rocket explodes when it reaches a certain height. All the while, I'm standing there with bated breath, waiting to see how big the splash is. Such was the case in the image below, titled "Tempest", taken in 2019.

Huge waves crash against Otter Cliff in Acadia National Park, Maine.

Tempest

Limited Edition

Waves caused by a nor'easter's passing pound Otter Cliff in Acadia National Park. Otter Cliff is 110 feet tall, so these waves were just incredible to see. Fine Art Limited Edition of 100 prints.

All of that is background information, to explain why I was in Acadia National Park on September 24th of this year. A storm had moved out to sea, and the forecast called for high seas. As a bonus, it appeared sunrise might also be very colorful. There was a spot in Acadia I was anxious to capture with big waves, so I decided I'd get up at 2am and head there to arrive in time for sunrise. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the weather report turned out to be as wrong as it could be. The storm had veered further east than initially reported, so the expected high seas didn't happen. I knew as soon as I got out of my car something wasn't right. I couldn't hear any thunderous wave splashes. I made my way to the initial spot I had chosen, to have my fears confirmed. I'd driven three hours in the middle of the night for nothing.

It was still dark, so I was still hopeful that sunrise might provide a consolation prize of sorts. But as the light came up and dawn grew nearer, the skies just seemed to get more gray. I grew frustrated and considered packing it in right there. If I headed home right then, I might arrive just as my wife was making her morning coffee and get to spend that time with her.

A family of sea otters lays among the seaweed near Otter Cliff in Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor, Maine.

You Otter Be in Pictures

A family of sea otters lays among the seaweed near Otter Cliff in Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor, Maine.

Back in my car, I drove down the Park Loop Road, making a stop at Thunder Hole, and had pretty much decided it was time to head home. But as I passed Otter Cliff, something made me stop. The light wasn't particularly interesting, and I could see from the road there were no waves. The ocean was as calm as I'd ever seen. But I decided to stop. I parked my car and made my way to Boulder Beach.

I've photographed on Boulder Beach many times, and this time, decided I would work closer to Otter Cliff. Normally, I use Otter Cliff as my background. It's a well known landmark that sets the context for a landscape image there, and the rounded boulders on the beach offer a great foreground. You can see that in the image of "Dawn on Boulder Beach" below, taken in 2020. But as I said, I decided to move closer to the cliff, to try and find a different perspective. The spot I set up on is actually the outcrop of rocks you can see between the two waves above in "Tempest". The tide was out and as I said, the ocean was as calm as a bath tub, so I climbed up and began setting up my gear.

Waves wash over the cobblestones on Boulder Beach in Acadia National Park, Maine.

Dawn On Boulder Beach

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Otter Cliff glows with the first light of an autumn day as cobblestones are awash in a wave from the Atlantic Ocean on Boulder Beach in Acadia National Park, Maine. This was an incredible morning in my favorite spot to catch a sunrise in Acadia National Park. The way the cobblestones rattle when the water washes over them creates a soft music with the sound of the wind and water.
Fine Art Limited Edition of 100 prints.

I had just put my camera with the wide angle lens on the tripod and stood up when I felt eyes on me. I looked up and saw movement by some big rocks, when up popped a head. At first I didn't know what it was, but as they came more into view, I could see it was a family of otters! Five of them climbed up on the rocks, playing around and tumbling with each other a bit. I quickly grabbed my second camera with my Sony 100-400mm G Master lens and scrambled to make sure my settings were right. Then I began photographing.

A river otter perched on a seaweed covered rock in Acadia National Park.

Otterly Adorable

A river otter is perched on a seaweed covered rock near Otter Cliff in Acadia National Park.

I had moved close to the cliff for a different perspective on Boulder Beach, hoping for some interesting light. As I set up, I looked up and saw several wet and furry faces watching me. These otters had crawled up on the rocks and took notice of me, played amongst themselves a bit, and then swam off in the surf, leaving me to contemplate the brief encounter.

The otters were about 20 yards away from me, so the zoom lens was absolutely necessary and zoomed all the way in. One or two of the otters began climbing up the rocks, checking me out and watching me. It almost seemed as if they were posing. This scene went on for several minutes, with me clicking away, hoping I'd get at least one or two images. After those few minutes, the otters jumped into the water and I briefly lost sight of them. Then they popped up and began swimming. Eventually they went behind some rocks and disappeared. I waited for a few minutes to see if they'd return, but apparently they'd had enough photoshoot for the day.

An otter poses on a seaweed covered rock near Otter Cliff in Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor, Maine.

Ready For My Closeup

An otter poses on a seaweed covered rock near Otter Cliff in Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor, Maine.

It ended up being a very strange morning. I don't make it a habit of driving to Acadia in the middle of the night for one sunrise. And when I arrived just before 5am, it seemed I'd wasted my time. Thankfully I listened to that voice in my head and made that last stop on Boulder Beach. It turned out to be very different, and very worth it. After the otters swam away, I packed up, and headed to Jordan's in Bar Harbor for a well-earned breakfast. Love their blueberry pancakes!

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