A sea otter has been seizing and damaging surfboards off the coast of Santa Cruz, California. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the otter has been showing aggression toward beach-goers for several weeks, though her behavior seemed to have gotten more aggressive recently.
One video, which was posted on social media, showed the critter crawling on top of several surfboards, at least one of which he bit and tore a chunk out of. The marine mammal was also seen aggressively approaching surfers and kayakers.
Due to an increasing risk to the public, a team from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and California Department of Fish and Wildlife has been dispatched to try and capture and rehome the animal.
The sea otter, named Otter 841 by local officials, is a 5-year-old female who has a long history of bold behaviors. According to reports, she was born in captivity and later released to the wild. Despite that, she has always shown aggressiveness toward humans. In May 2022, she was seen with a pup after returning to the Santa Cruz area, and months later, engaged in similar behavior.
California sea otters, which are typically found along California’s central coast, are an endangered species that once filled the state’s coastal waters. When colonists moved in, however, they were hunted to near-extinction; it wasn’t until it was banned in 1911 that their population began to grow again.
Today, there are approximately 3,000 California sea otters, many of which live in areas frequented by surfers, kayakers, and paddleboarders.
Despite the overlap, interactions between the animals and humans have been rare as they have an innate fear of humans. However, they have also been known to approach humans due to hormonal surges in pregnancy or as a result of being fed or approached by people.
According to officials, Otter 841’s mother was orphaned and raised in captivity. Upon being released into the wild, however, people began to offer her food, which she quickly grew used to. This led her to climb on top of kayaks in search of food, which caused her to be removed from the area.
She was taken to the Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center, where it was determined that she was pregnant. It was there that she gave birth to 841.
The pup was ultimately raised by her mother until she was weaned, after which she was sent to the aquarium. Wanting to increase her chances of survival upon release, caretakers took measures to prevent the pup from associating positively with humans, including wearing ponchos and masks.
Despite that, 841 quickly lost her fear of humans.
One year after she was released, officials began receiving reports of her interactions with paddle boarders and surfers.
Joon Lee, a software engineer, was riding the waves at Streamer Lane in Santa Cruz, when the sea otter approached his surfboard. Despite his attempts to paddle away, he wasn’t able to get far before the animal bit into his leash. He subsequently abandoned his board.
He then watched in horror as the sea otter began to rip chunks out of the board with her teeth.
Until Otter 841 can be caught, officials are asking the public to avoid her at all costs.