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River otter's rising popularity putting him at risk

February 11, 2013 5:49:15 PM PST
Ever since he was first spotted last fall, the river otter known as "Sutro Sam" has been drawing admirers near Ocean Beach in San Francisco. There have been so many visitors to the remains of the Sutro Baths, park officials had to put up barricades to protect Sam.

Sutro Sam is often down in the pools that are what remain of the Sutro Baths. For two days, ABC7 News spent some time watching people, watching him. He's cute. There's no doubt about it. It's understandable that people want to watch him clambering from one pool to the next, sunning himself, or swimming through the ponds. So many people went out to the baths last January to get a close look, the Park Service had to put up barricades and signs asking visitors to give Sam a little space.

"We've seen people bringing their dogs down here, people trying to flush Sam out of his pool to get a better photograph, people throwing things in the people, people attempting to feed him," said Aquarium of the Bay Director of Animal Care Christina Slager. She says none of that is good for otters.

Since the signs have gone up, that inappropriate behavior has been greatly reduced but still, in the past two days, people have been seen walking right past the off-limits signs and in spite of the signs saying 'Please don't bring your dog,' there have been people walking dogs off-leash by the pools. "People, although they love Sam, might inadvertently hurt him by feeding him something that's inappropriate, or by their formerly-friendly dog deciding to bite him," Slager said.

Then, there's the danger of Sam just getting too accustomed to being around people. So, even if you think walking through the restricted area is OK because you're not bothering the otter, consider that you may be conditioning him to be less afraid of humans and for a wild animal, that is almost never a good thing.

It's extremely rare that river otters are ever seen south of the Golden Gate. Sutro Sam probably came down from Marin. There's an alternative for people who just have to see one up close. The Aquarium of the Bay is putting together a river otter exhibit, due to open this summer, where visitors can see three river otters up close.

In the meantime, at the Sutro Baths, give Sutro Sam a little room. It's not good for him to be around people.


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