In Santa Cruz, California, surfers are being terrorized by an “aggressive” sea otter biting their boards and forcing them to swim ashore.
“At first, we were like, ‘Look how cute?’ But then it bit down on the board and chewed off a piece, and we were like. ‘What’s going on?'” Joon Lee, an Apple software engineer, told The Los Angeles Times. “I was scared. I was trying to swim away, but before I was able to get far, it bit my leash.”
Mark Woodward, a local photographer, has been capturing the sea otter’s activities on his Instagram account @nativesantacruz. He says he’s witnessed several “very aggressive interactions” between the sea otter and local surfers.
In one instance, the sea otter pushed a surfer off his board and caused him to swim away. It wasn’t until a nearby catamaran saw what was happening and got close enough to scare away the sea otter and retrieve the board.
“It’s getting to be dangerous, and I’m afraid that the sea otter, which was born in captivity and released when it was old enough, will have to be captured and live at a rescue sanctuary.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission told WRAL News that the sea otter is a 5-year-old female, and that the sea otter displayed the same unusual behavior last September. They are currently working with the nearby Monterey Aquarium to try to capture the otter.
In the meantime, they have posted warning signs around beaches where the otter has been spotted that read:
“Warning aggressive sea otter spotted in this area. Enter the water at your own risk.”
Why is this happening?
Researchers are perplexed by the sea otter’s strange behavior. The animal grows to five feet, can weigh 70 to 100 pounds, and is normally docile around humans.
“This is very unusual and rare,” Jessica Fujii, the scientific and operational leader of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Program, told the LA Times. “We have seen similar instances, you know, over the last several decades … but the persistence and pattern of this particular otter is fairly unique.”
Fuji was referring to a sea otter captured five years ago that exhibited similarly aggressive behavior towards kayakers. In that instance, the otter was thought to be fed illegally, often triggering aggressive behavior.
The otter was ultimately trapped and taken for observation at the aquarium. Researchers realized she was pregnant and raised her baby pup in captivity.
That sea otter was eventually tagged and released into the wild. Now she’s the same sea otter attacking people — just like Mom.