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The dispersion of otters Lutra lutra was studied along the coasts of an area of Shetland. The population was relatively stable, with about one adult otter per kilometre of coast. They fished diurnally in a strip of water usually within 100 m of the shore. Females lived in exclusive group ranges, occupied by up to four females, with well-defined boundaries which were respected by successive occupants. For two groups, where relatively complete information was available, range size was 4.7 and 6.4 km, occupied by two and four females, respectively; a third range was about 14 km, with possibly 4–5 females. Within the group ranges individual females moved on their own or with their cubs. Each had a core area, where they were observed > 50% of the time; these core areas were separate from each other, although each individual used the entire group range. Several or all females in each range bred in any one summer. Male ranges were larger than those of females, and overlapped with two or more female group ranges; there were several resident males along each section of coast, but the information on males was incomplete. The habitats of the sexes were different; males spent more time on exposed coasts than did females. There were frequent visits to all coasts from non-resident otters of both sexes.

Behavioural interactions related to territoriality are described; otters showed little overt aggression, except between adult males, but there was some individual avoidance. It is argued that the survival value of this spatial organization can be understood in terms of resource dispersion, but several types of resources have to be considered (including prey and fresh water), and detailed predictions of spatial organization from resource dispersion are unwarranted.