Surfboard-biting sea otter in Santa Cruz avoids capture. Biologist explains behavior, next plan

Sea otter in Santa Cruz has once again evaded capture attempts by wildlife officials. "I'm extremely frustrated and exhausted."

Lauren Martinez Image
Sunday, July 16, 2023
Mischievous surfboard-biting sea otter in Santa Cruz avoids capture
The surfboard-biting sea otter in Santa Cruz has once again evaded capture attempts by wildlife officials.

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KGO) -- The surfboard-biting sea otter in Santa Cruz has once again - evaded capture attempts by wildlife officials.

Patrick Philips and his wife Jennifer are both visiting Santa Cruz from Concord. Patrick was excited he was able to get cellphone video of the mischievous otter. She's identifiable by a blue tag on her left webbed foot.

"I came over here and everyone's talking about it. I was videotaping a cute little otter and everybody said - hey, that's 841!" Philips said.

Colleen Young, a sea otter Biologist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is one of the divers on the capture team.

"I'm extremely frustrated and exhausted," Young said.

VIDEO: Infamous Santa Cruz sea otter sought by officials after hijacking surfboards

Wildlife officials are now monitoring and attempting to capture an infamous sea otter in Santa Cruz who has a thing for surfers.

The CDFW has been working with Monterey Bay Aquarium staff since July 2. Officials are responding because this 5-year-old female otter is showing concerning and unusual behavior by approaching people.

They're able to locate her every day, but her behavior changes every day.

"For this particular animal, she's got a lot of variability when she's active, when she's resting and that makes it really challenging because we have different capture strategies depending on what her behavior is. So we need to plan in advance what those capture strategies are going to be because we have different people that are experts in the different types of strategies," Young said.

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Authorities issue warning after aggressive sea otter seen going after surfers along Santa Cruz coastline near West Cliff Drive.

This otter has quite the history. A spokesperson for Monterey Bay Aquarium said the otter's mom was rescued in Santa Cruz in 2016. The mom had reports of approaching people on kayaks and boats but nothing to the extent of her daughter, otherwise known as otter 841 which is her rescue number.

Young explained they tried catching this otter last year when she was showing similar, unusual behavior. The otter has some familiarity with nets.

"Last year, we also made some capture attempts which turned out to be successful in hazing her and discouraging the behavior so we didn't end up capturing her because she stopped doing the behavior," Young said.

VIDEO: Sea otter checks out surfboards at Santa Cruz beach

Video shows a sea otter aboard a surfboard at Cowell Beach in Santa Cruz.

Young said they had crews out on Friday and they'll keep trying until they capture her.

"Although we haven't observed her being aggressive towards people, she's really focused on the boards or if they're wearing fins she's focused on the fins. We don't want to have a person accidently bit," Young said.

Officials says when she is captured she will undergo a health assessment and eventually rehomed in a zoo or aquarium.

Local surfer Joseph Wilcox said that's a shame. He held a surfboard Friday that said "keep 841 free."

MORE: Researchers studying proposal to restore sea otter populations along Northern CA coast

"Every time humans come across some nature that doesn't act their way acts like nature we got to put it in cage and you know take it somewhere. This is where she belongs, this is her home this is our home we can share it and yeah watch out for the otters," Wilcox said.

Young said capturing her is the only solution.

"Obviously the ocean is her home, anyone who is in there is a visitor but - unless everyone is willing to stay out of the water - which is unlikely - capturing her is the only way we see this resolving," Young said.

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