Otter Chaos Continues! Surfboard-Chomping Sea Otter Returns After Mysterious Absence

Last summer, a sea otter known as 841 captured hearts, minds, and — occasionally — surfboards due to her tendency to chomp and then hijack the boards of Santa Cruz, California surfers. After a summer of adorable terror that ended in a futile otterhunt by federal officials, 841 vanished to what we can only assume is the marine mammal equivalent of a non-extradition country.

But life on the lam presumably had no appeal for the cheeky otter. She reappeared off Santa Cruz over the Memorial Day weekend. And though 841 has yet to get up to her old board-stealing tricks, wildlife officials are urging surfers, kayakers, paddleboarders, and the otter-obsessed general public to give 841 some space whenever possible.

a sea otter

Otter 841. Mother. Surfer. Pirate. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife


Normally shy

“Sea otters are naturally wary of people, but some individuals exhibit aggressive tendencies that may be exacerbated by pregnancy, illegal feeding, or repeated exposure to close approaches by people,” Vanessa Morales, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement obtained by the L.A. Times. “[Be] extra cautious when recreating around sea otters,” she continued.

Photographer and Santa Cruz native Mark Woodward broke the news over the holiday weekend, noting that 841 had once again taken up residence at one of the area’s most popular surf spots.


Woodward is something of an expert on 841. His photography first brought the troublesome otter’s behavior to worldwide attention in 2023. Now, wildlife officials are turning to Woodward to spread the word about giving 841 a wide berth.

“For their safety, stay at least 50’ away from sea otters and all marine life, it’s the law and also common sense, so please help keep them safe,” the photographer wrote on Facebook at the request of various governmental agencies.

A legacy of piracy

As ExplorersWeb reported last year, 841 was born in captivity at the Monterey Bay Aquarium before being introduced into the wild. Her board-munching tendencies surfaced a year after her release in 2020 but really ramped up over the summer of 2023.

After a summer of undeniably cute piracy, 841 evaded capture by authorities only to reappear in the fall with a pup by her side. At the time, it seemed she’d traded a life of crime for motherhood and was on good behavior through December before vanishing again.

Now that she’s reappeared without her pup (likely weened and out exploring the world on its own), the question on everyone’s mind is this: Will 841 resume her past activities?

a sea otter

Otter 831. Photo: Lilian Carswel, U.S. Fish and Wildlife


If she does, it could be bad for her. By California law, she’ll be euthanized if she happens to get her teeth on human flesh in the pursuit of a surfboard. The proliferation of social media images might cause more human traffic in the areas she frequents.

So, in addition to urging surfers to splash, yell, and gently nudge (with a paddle) if 841 climbs aboard, authorities are also requesting that anyone who captures an image of the otter use sound judgment when sharing online — no matter how many clicks and shares said photo might generate.

“Use care when you share,” Morales said.

Good advice for us all.

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).