Since mid-June, a sea otter has been terrorizing Santa Cruz surfers. The otter has repeatedly stolen surfboards, even when the surfers attempt to scare the critter off by splashing it. More recently, it has also taken to biting the boards and lunging at the humans trying to retrieve them.

Many of the encounters have been documented by Mark Woodward, who goes by the Instagram handle Nativesantacruz. Mark first posted about the otter on June 18 writing, “A surfing sea otter at Cowells. This sea otter was putting on quite a show checking out and climbing on multiple boards, but it chose the blue one as its preferred ride. At one point, it was swimming after the board as the surfer was heading in.”

As the LA times reports, the surfboard thief is actually the offspring of another aggressive otter. Five years ago, an otter in Monterey Bay began aggressively approaching kayaks and had to be trapped as a result. Researchers found out the otter was pregnant, and it gave birth to a pup that was tagged, released and tracked. Now the pup is all grown up and has a taste for foam.

Though it was was first seen as a cute diversion, as the weeks went on and the encounters increased, the tone has changed. “I witnessed another sea otter and surfboard encounter, the third one in two weeks,” Mark posted on July 9. “I do believe it’s been the same otter, but this time it was extremely aggressive and the surfer abandoned his board and swam to shore. A catamaran eventually scared the otter off and allowed the surfer to retrieve his board, but Woodward expressed concern about the growing frequency of the encounters. “This may seem cute and funny, but it’s getting to be dangerous and I’m afraid that the sea otter, which was born in captivity and released when it was old enough, will have to be captured and live at a rescue sanctuary.”

Yesterday, Mark posted another encounter, writing, “This was a very aggressive interaction and scary to watch. I’ve been in contact with the @montereybayaquarium among others and Fish and Game is actively looking for the sea otter. Please consider this video as a warning to how strong and forceful this animal is and should be avoided if at all possible!”

That morning a city worker posted signs along West Cliff Drive warning of the “aggressive sea otter” in the area and cautioning surfers to enter the water at their own risk.

“I would start just by saying that this is very unusual and rare,” Jessica Fujii, scientific and operational leader of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Program told the LA Times. “I would not characterize this as a common behavior for sea otters. We have seen similar instances, you know, over the last several decades … but the persistence and pattern of this particular otter is fairly unique.” Fujii added that her state and federal partners are hoping to capture the otter this week.

“Due to the increasing public safety risk, a team from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Monterey Bay Aquarium trained in the capture and handling of sea otters has been deployed to attempt to capture and rehome her,” Ashley McConnell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement.


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