A large sea otter has been making rounds as the most notorious surfboard stealing sea creature this side of the Pacific Ocean. As of Wednesday, the aggro otter—herself a member of an endangered species found in central California—still remains at large, stalking the waters off the coast of Santa Cruz for her next barney victim.
The 5-year-old female otter has been designated “otter 841” by California wildlife officials. Her usual MO is to jump onto surfer’s boards before biting down on the board. Depending on the material, the otter can end up taking chunks out of the board, and, depending on the day, 841 can be more or less aggressive as she tries to nab a board from unsuspecting Santa Cruz surfers. Locals have noticed her activity has become far more pugnacious since this past weekend.
In a video shared Monday by local photographer Mark Woodward, who goes by Native Santa Cruz online, 841 latched onto a surfer’s board before scaring the owner off. She then munched down for several seconds even as the surfer tried to shoo her away. In another instance, a surfer abandoned the board to a “romp” of multiple otters, but the largest one decided to hang 10 for a bit before a local sailing catamaran managed to save the board. 841 has reportedly tried to steal a surfboard on three occasions this past weekend.
Other video captured by Santa Cruz locals shows 841 stalking surfers like a tiny, furry rendition of Jaws. The otter has forced surfers off their boards and patently refused to jump off, no matter how many times they flip the board or splash her.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are now getting involved. The state agency told The New York Times it was working with the Monterey Bay Aquarium to safely “capture and rehome” Otter 841. So far, despite attempts to recapture her, 841 remains at large. According to officials, the otter will be transferred back to the aquarium before being transferred to another long-term home where she can live out the rest of her days.
The federal agency stationed in central California told Gizmodo that officers first tried hazing techniques to help capture 841, though those were only “temporarily effective.”
“This sea otter was observed with a pup after returning to the Santa Cruz area in May 2022. She exhibited similar unusual behavior in the Santa Cruz area in September 2022, at which time CDFW and Monterey Bay Aquarium staff successfully hazed the otter preventing further incident throughout the winter,” the Fish and Wildlife Department said in a statement to Gizmodo.
Federal officials are warning kayakers and surfers from engaging with any otters in the area. According to a tweet from Woodward, local officials have posted signs near the popular surf spot warning people away from the “aggressive sea otter in this area.”
The creatures were just one of many mammal species caught up in the 18th and 19th century fur trades that decimated other species of beaver and otter along North American waterways and bays. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are as few as 3,000 California sea otters left alive in recent years, even though their population has been slowly growing since the 1970s. The federal agency advises that folks try and keep a safe distance from the creatures and to not feed them, as this could make them aggressive.
That’s what reportedly happened to 841’s mother. The Times mentioned that 841’s mom was raised in captivity after being orphaned at a young age. After she was released into the wild, locals fed her squid which caused her to become too close to humans, incentivizing her to hop aboard kayaks in search of more food. She was recaptured, and gave birth to 841.
Even though Monterey Bay Aquarium researchers said they tried measures to prevent 841 from becoming accustomed to humans while in captivity, she started interacting with folks hanging out in the surf within a year of being released. Her board hopping spree wasn’t a major problem back in 2021, but as of late she’s become far more bold, a situation which is both dangerous to 841 and to humans.
There’s been quite a fair bit of dustups between sea life and humanity as of late. In recent months, Orca attacks against small sea-faring ships are on the rise. Even with new acoustic devices meant to dissuade these killer whales from bumping vessels, the sea does seem to be in revolt after decade after decade of ocean devastation and increased ship traffic harming maritime life.