A Santa Cruz Sea Otter Steals Surfboards in New Viral Video

Anna Garrison - Author

Jul. 13 2023, Published 12:00 p.m. ET

As climate change drastically alters animal habitats, changing migration patterns and contributing to habitat loss, it's no surprise that videos go viral of animals in "human spaces." Between orca whales attacking boats and sharks appearing more frequently in shallow waters, it indicates that humans are encroaching on animal spaces.

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One Santa Cruz sea otter has been caught on camera stealing and chewing surfboards. Here's what you need to know about the viral video and the sea otter, plus what wildlife experts and officials have had to say about her antics.

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A new viral video shows a California sea otter stealing surfboards.

On July 11, 2023, a video of a five-year-old female sea otter, better known as Otter 841, in Santa Cruz, Calif., went viral after onlookers caught her stealing a surfboard.

The video, which was posted to the Instagram page Native Santa Cruz, included this caption: "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!"

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In a statement, per USA Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say that the otter's behavior poses a public safety risk. "While there have been no confirmed reports of injury, due to the highly unusual behavior of this otter, kayakers, surfers, and others recreating in the area should not approach the otter or encourage the otter's interactions," the statement read.

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But the July 13 incident was not the first of otters stealing surfboards. Santa Cruz resident and wildlife photographer Mark Woodward told NPR that he had photographed "hundreds" of otters before but had never witnessed such unusual behavior from them until a series of incidents beginning on June 18, 2023.

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The otter's behavior may be connected to her upbringing.

According to KSBW Action News, Otter 841 was born in captivity after her mother was removed from the wild for aggressive activity related to humans after being fed. After she was born, Otter 841 was tagged and released into the wild to be monitored in June 2020. It was in September 2022 that she began exhibiting aggressive behavior of her own.

Initially, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Monterey Bay Aquarium were able to drive Otter 841 away from the area in hopes of deterring her from interacting with people. Now that she has returned to the area, the groups are looking to catch and rehome the otter, reports NPR.

Unfortunately, once the otter is caught, she will not return to the wild but will be given a veterinary examination and moved to "an USFWS-approved location."

Southern sea otters are listed as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act and protected under the Marine Mammal Act and California law. If humans see otters exhibiting unusual or aggressive behavior, they should avoid interacting with them.

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