Authorities in Santa Cruz have issued a warning after an "aggressive" sea otter has repeatedly stolen surfboards from surfers.
Per The New York Times, a five-year-old sea otter known as Otter 841 has targeted surfers in a number of boardjacking incidents over the past few years, but her behavior has grown increasingly aggressive as of late. Multiple videos show the otter seizing and damaging surfboards, which has prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a warning along West Cliff Drive. They're also hoping they can apprehend the suspect.
“Due to the increasing public safety risk, a team from C.D.F.W. and the Monterey Bay Aquarium trained in the capture and handling of sea otters has been deployed to attempt to capture and rehome her,” said a statement for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Otter 841's mother was raised in captivity but continued to interact with humans after she was released into the wild. She repeatedly boarded kayaks in the area looking to be fed by humans and was put back into captivity, where she gave birth to 841. When she was being raised in captivity by her caretakers, they took multiple steps to stop her from forming bonds with humans.
However, she lost her fear of humans anyway. "After one year of being in the wild without issue, we started receiving reports of her interactions with surfers, kayakers and paddle boarders,” said Monterey Bay Aquarium sea otter program manager Jessica Fujii. "We do not know why this started. We have no evidence that she was fed. But it has persisted in the summers for the last couple of years.”
Otter 841 was first spotted climbing on surfer's boards in 2021. In an interview with ABC News, photographer Mark Woodward said that he's spotted many such incidents of her in the act of boardjacking. "Since [June], in the past five days now, there's been three more incidents of it," Woodward said. "And they've all been much more aggressive. I have photographed a lot of otters over the years, I have never seen anything like this." Woodward said some of the incidents resembled "wrestling."
Typically speaking, sea otters are aggressive animals but they don't often approach humans. "They really don't want to be around humans," said SJSU's Moss Landing Marine Laboratories Professor David Ebert. "But if they have an association from the time that they were born, that sea otter may not have a fear of people and might just cause some to be more aggressive."