Evolution's take on these loud, large and shaggy mammals beat George Lucas by more than two million years, when giant otter ancestors appeared in the New World. And, though otters might not be able to pilot spaceships, they certainly lead complex social lives, relying on a boisterous patois of howls, hums and whines.
To figure out just how complex otter sounds are, a duo of German ecologists at the University of Ulm recently recorded wild otter noises and paired those calls with behavior. Otters have "a vocal repertoire with 22 distinct vocalization types produced by adults and 11 vocalization types within the babbling bouts" by the babies, the scientists wrote on Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.
Otters use their voices to warn about nearby predators, to find mates and to beg for food. And, like a merry band of Cub Scouts, the giant otters engage in social outings like fishing and swimming. Whistling sounds let otters coordinate as a group: