A U.S. Fish and Wildlife official attempts to catch a surfboard-stealing otter known as Otter 841.
(Mark Woodward / Native Santa Cruz)
Coast Life

Otter 841 continues to evade capture off Cowell Beach; effort could take weeks

Santa Cruz’s infamous surfboard-stealing otter remained at large after the latest unsuccessful attempt Monday afternoon by wildlife officials to take it into custody for study. A spokesperson for the Monterey Bay Aquarium said scientists believe that could take days to weeks.

Have something to say? Lookout welcomes letters to the editor, within our policies, from readers. Guidelines here.

Santa Cruz’s mischievous surfing sea otter evaded capture once again Monday afternoon, outmaneuvering a team of state and federal wildlife workers who have repeatedly tried to corral the clever creature.

A team of personnel from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service patrolled the waters around Cowell Beach for about an hour Monday. Two men in wetsuits ventured out on surfboards to attempt to lure the otter onto the board and into a nearby boat. However, the best they could do was get the otter — known as Otter 841 in reference to its tag number — to hitch a brief ride before she bailed.

A team was out in the water over the weekend, though the team members sat mostly idle for more than an hour early Saturday afternoon.

They placed a large net in the water, tying it to two buoys that floated about 100 feet apart. The net descended below the surface, forming a curtain-like barrier to attempt to keep the otter in one area. Once the net was set up, the team tried to lure the otter onto a surfboard, but the closest they got to capturing the otter was tugging 841 on a brief ride toward the boat before she jumped ship. The crew had to wrap up for the day after those in the water got fatigued by more than an hour of swimming around with surfboards in tow.

Otter 841 has become a national and international sensation over the past couple of weeks, and her surfboard-stealing antics have been a hot topic in the media since the saga began in mid-June.

It’s becoming increasingly likely that the search will take some time to reach a resolution.

A spokesperson for the Monterey Bay Aquarium said scientists believe “successful capture may take days or weeks given logistical considerations, the sea otter’s behavior, and shifting environmental conditions.” Crews might not attempt to capture the otter every day, the spokesperson added, as they need to monitor the weather and ocean conditions to determine whether a team can safely navigate the area.

Santa Cruzan Dustin Mulvaney said he has been following the story on social media, but saw the scene for the first time in person last week — and wonders if prolonged exposure to the crew on the boat will increase the chances of 841’s capture.

“She might just get used to it and just hop on the boat at one point,” he said Saturday afternoon as he watched the team pursue the otter from West Cliff Drive. “She just seems so calm out there.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials attempt to catch a surfboard-stealing otter known as Otter 841.
(Mark Woodward / Native Santa Cruz)

Mulvaney, an environmental studies professor at San Jose State University, said he thinks surfers and swimmers need to be cautious.

“The other day I saw her, and she wasn’t getting on any boards, but she was pulling on some leashes,” he said. “I love the ocean, but I think those people were kind of getting in her space.”

Regardless, people remain eager to catch a glimpse of the otter and watch the fish and wildlife team as it continues its attempts to capture the otter.

A surfer in an otter costume protests attempts by U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials to capture a surfboard-stealing otter known as Otter 841.
(Mark Woodward / Native Santa Cruz)

Courtney Bateman is from Palm Springs, but is living in Santa Cruz for the next few months while her husband is in town for work. She’s been going on multiple West Cliff walks, in part to keep tabs on Otter 841’s situation.

“We keep going out to the house and coming back out here, we’ve been watching the whole thing,” she said. “I think our dog is like, ‘Can we just stay home?’”

(Mark Woodward / Native Santa Cruz)

Bateman said she has been surprised at the huge media presence coming to Santa Cruz to cover the otter.

“Oh my God, it’s been a whole scene,” she said. “It’s a fascinating story and all my friends are reaching out and telling me about it, and I say it’s literally right down the street!”

Bateman said she and her husband bought binoculars and a tripod so they could set up a wildlife viewing station along their walks. It’s certainly come in handy for keeping their eyes on 841. Given that they are not full-time Santa Cruzans, they came at the perfect time to see a rare occurrence.

“When the surfers are there, she’s there,” she said. “It’s just such a cool once-in-a-lifetime experience, really.”