Otter Chaos! Fuzzy Fiend Terrorizes Santa Cruz Surfers

There’s a ferocious creature haunting the shoreline of Santa Cruz, California — a sharp-toothed mammal with “jaws strong enough to crush clams” and a propensity for surfboard larceny. The beast in question? This girl.

a sea otter

A sea otter. Photo: Shutterstock


Well. Not this girl, specifically, but one just like her.

California sea otter 841 — as she’s known to local wildlife officials — started harshing the mellow Santa Cruz surf vibes in 2021. At first, the behavior was limited to chilling on top of boards, The New York Times reported. But 841 became more aggressive as time passed, occasionally ripping chunks out of boards or biting at the leashes connecting surfers to their crafts. It all came to a head last weekend when 841 was caught in the act on three separate occasions.

“The past five days now, there’s been three more incidents of it,” photographer Mark Woodward shared with Bay Area outlet ABC7 News. “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.”

“Due to the increasing public safety risk, a team from [California Department of Fish and Widlife] and the Monterey Bay Aquarium trained in the capture and handling of sea otters has been deployed to attempt to capture and rehome her,” a spokesperson for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) said in a statement obtained by The New York Times.

They might need more training, though.

“[841’s] been quite talented at evading us,” Jessica Fujii, the sea otter program manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, told the paper.

The backstory

841 was born in captivity at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but every attempt was made to prevent her from habituating to human interaction, Fujii explained. And when she was released into the wild upon reaching maturity, things went well.

At first.

But a year after she gained her freedom, 841 started pestering surfers. And nobody quite knows why.

“We do not know why this started,” Fujii said. “We have no evidence that she was fed. But it has persisted in the summers for the last couple of years.”

As cute as this behavior may seem, CFWD officials are urging surfers to use caution, not encourage 841 in any way, and not share any encounters they might have on social media. Wildlife professionals are afraid that such sharing could cause humans to seek out interactions with her, something that could ultimately lead to her death.

According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the total population of the California sea otter sub-species is 3,000. And The New York Times reported that if 841 bites someone, California will euthanize her.

So let’s collectively root for that otter-searching joint task force to get their hands on 841 before something bad happens.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew’s essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals.
You can find more of his work at, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).