Authorities issue warning after aggressive sea otter seen going after surfers in Santa Cruz

Dustin Dorsey Image
Wednesday, July 12, 2023
Warning issued after sea otter seen going after Santa Cruz surfers
Authorities issue warning after aggressive sea otter seen going after surfers along Santa Cruz coastline near West Cliff Drive.

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KGO) -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is warning people enjoying the waters along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz about an aggressive sea otter that has been seen going after surfers.

West Cliff Drive is a picture-perfect sight in Santa Cruz, the backdrop of many social media posts.

But those picturesque images are being overshadowed by the surfing sea otter captured in June by Native Santa Cruz photographer Mark Woodward.

"Since then, 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."

Warnings are now on full display along the coastline alerting visitors of the aggressive sea otter.

VIDEO: Sea otter checks out surfboards at Santa Cruz beach

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

We captured some otters resting, but could not tell if any of them were the one with the blue tag from the viral images.

Through his lens, Woodward has seen the female otter approach many surfers and kayakers at the popular location.

"It was a true wrestling match over this surfboard," Woodward said. "And the person finally got it away and it was damaged. Basically, the board was destroyed. Literally the day before, I filmed the surfer that got so freaked out by it that he left his board and swam back to shore without it."

Behavior that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife calls concerning and unusual.

CDFW says this five-year-old female southern sea otter also exhibited unusual behavior in the Santa Cruz area back in September 2022, but nothing else until recently.

"They're actually pretty aggressive animals," SJSU's Moss Landing Marine Laboratories Professor David Ebert said. "They're not as cute and cuddly as people tend to think."

Ebert is surprised to learn about the way this otter is acting.

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

The CDFW says it may be due to hormonal surges or because humans have fed her.

Ebert says human interaction can have adverse effects on wild animals like otters.

"They really don't want to be around humans," Ebert said. "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."

A team is working to capture, study and find a long-term home for the otter. The CDFW is urging everyone to give her distance until that time.

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