This past summer, a sea otter off the coast of Santa Cruz, CA made headlines for its aggressive behavior as it attacked surfers and stole their boards in broad daylight. It turns out there was a reason behind the less-than-amicable temperament: gestational hormones.
Otter 841, referred to by The Los Angeles Times as "California's angriest otter," has seemingly given birth to an adorable pup. Mark Woodward, who has been chronicling her life on social media, told the newspaper he was in shock when he saw the new mom floating in the water with a fluffy otter pup. "I couldn’t believe it," he said. "I think I let out a yelp when I saw it."
State and federal wildlife authorities have yet to officially confirm the birth, though a team is being deployed to the site in the meantime. Still, 841's pregnancy could explain its aggressive behavior toward surfers this summer; otters' gestational period is about six months, and hormonal changes during this time can cause moms-to-be to become hostile.
It's not 841's first time at the rodeo. She's given birth to two pups in the past, and while her first survived, her second, born this spring, did not.
"While wildlife biologists suspected sea otter 841 may [have been] pregnant earlier this year, they were unable to verify the pregnancy without capturing the sea otter to perform a full health evaluation,” Ashley McConnell, communications team leader at the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, explained of the latest pregnancy. "Hormonal surges related to pregnancy have been known to cause aggressive behavior in female southern sea otters." Luckily, scientists aren't planning to capture the animal and further scare mom and pup in the process.
Protecting this loving mom is a high priority for scientists and local activists. Gena Bentall, director and senior scientist for local research and environmental organization Sea Otter Savvy, said they were "not participating in or supporting any media publicity around 841" as they "do not feel it is in her best interest."
Woodward saw firsthand what a media circus can do for the tiny ocean mammal, which is protected under federal regulations and California state law. After the otter made headlines over the summer, Woodward saw several boaters and kayakers approaching and harassing her, which undoubtedly stressed out the expecting mom.
“People need to know they should give her space,” Woodward stated plainly. He noted that federal law requires boats to keep a distance of 60 feet. Leaving them alone is the best thing we can do to ensure their peace and happiness.
"To help give sea otters and their pups the best chance at survival in the wild, it’s important for members of the public to give them and their pups space, especially when recreating on the water,” McConnell said.
It may be tempting to pet the animals and observe them up close, but it's best for everyone involved if you just appreciated their cuteness from afar.