Y’all really need to chill TFO and let Sea Otter 841 vibe. If you don’t, your actions could lead to her death.
The surfboard-stealing female sea otter in Santa Cruz has evolved from a hyperlocal news story to a ubiquitous touchstone in pop culture. (The New York Times covered the virality around this infamous marine mammal with a chef’s kiss headline.) Though like we’ve mentioned before: The temporary theft of these flotation devices isn’t cute. It’s a territorial act. And an increasingly aggressive one at that.
— Be Sea Otter Savvy (@SeaOtterSavvy) July 19, 2023
The otter, which has since been well-known as “Sea Otter 841,” is also creating dangerous conditions for the other nearby otters. People have been observed approaching other sea otters in the area in an attempt to photograph and engage with what they think could be the notorious sea mammal. This isn’t only dangerous to humans — sea otters have a bite force capable of taking off a finger with one single chomp — but for the otters, too.
Any otters that physically harm a human are, per the California Fish and Wildlife Department, deemed a safety concern… and could be taken from the wild. Or euthanized. Even if their aggression was probed by meddling humans.
As for Sea Otter 841, she’s only bitten and taken over surfboards, thus far; she’s not physically harmed a human. She’s also apparently becoming bolder, swimming up to people in an attempt to bite them and take their boards; both federal and state Fish and Wildlife officials have confirmed she’s aggressively approached people and has bitten surfboards.
And each of those two government agencies has failed to capture the rogue sea otter, many times in spectacular fashion.
From the first attempts to corral the large sea otter, local photographer Mark Woodward — we know him best by his “NativeSantaCruz” handle on Twitter — has been following those attempts to capture 841. Woodward, too, has also grown into an advocate for sea otter safety, due to his observance of seeing surfers, kayakers, and swimmers attempt to approach the otter, as well as sea otters in the area.
Don’t be like this person that just paddled right up to a sea otter, they’re part of the problem pic.twitter.com/0ZWPH1lacA
— Native Santa Cruz (@NativeSantaCruz) July 21, 2023
“Okay media, let’s do a story on sea otter harassment, it’s now happening constantly,” Woodward tweeted on Monday. “I’ve got photos and I’d really like this to get out there. You all know how to get a hold of me!”
This is getting really bad. I watched a group of 4 kayakers go to a kelp bed with a 10-12 sea otters until the otters were forced to flee. Once the otters went to another kelp bed, they did the same thing! We need people in boats to protect them! @CaliforniaDFW @MontereyAq. pic.twitter.com/YHhXhPsy1H
— Native Santa Cruz (@NativeSantaCruz) July 24, 2023
Since that call to action, a wide array of local media outlets have taken up his idea, using his photography to punctuate interviews done around his work documenting the sea otter.
In case you need a reminder: There’s an entire non-profit centered in Monterey that’s founded on sea otter safety.
“Addressing human-caused disturbance to sea otters is literally our organization’s mission,” tweeted Sea Otter Savvy, a research and community outreach hub conducting research around marine recreation and sea otter survival, in response to 841’s harassment. “We will be engaging with the marine recreation businesses in Santa Cruz this week but this happens daily wherever sea otter habitat and humans overlap.”
Sea Otter Savvy has an entire guide dedicated to coexisting amongst sea otters. One of the more prominent tenants of this manual? Human intentionality and awareness — “One of the first steps toward mitigating negative impacts of these interactions is for humans to recognize the power of their behavioral choices to help or harm.”
Intentionally interfering with a sea otter’s natural habits or putting yourself in the way of one goes against that very principle. And it could result in the death of one of the rarest, most endangered marine species in North America — one that numbers only 3,000 individuals, which includes 841.
So, yea: Y’all just need to leave 841 and her kin alone. Grabbing selfies/up-close pictures of the marine mammal for social media clout isn’t worth her, or any other otter’s, untimely cessation.
Feature image: Courtesy of [at]NativeSantaCruz