Sea Otter 841, From The Lens Of Photographer Who Made Her Famous

The Patch | by Beth Dalbey | Sea Otter | Shield Insurance Blog

Mark Woodward’s respect for the surfing sea otter grew along with a collection of pictures people have been swooning over around the world.

Sea Otter 841 wrested this board from a surfer and took a bite out of it. Wildlife officials had tried for months to capture 841, but she “outsmarted them every time,” according to Mark Woodward, who has documented the surfboard-stealing otter’s life.

Sea Otter 841 bites down on a surfboard off the coast of Santa Cruz, known for its world-class waves. Amateur photographer Mark Woodward said he photographed 841 on a board 10 times, and said she took a bite of the board on at least five occasions. 

Otter 841 gives chase to a couple of people paddling to Santa Cruz’s world-class surfing waves.

Otter 841 and her pup have company as they float off the coast of Santa Cruz. Sea otters need to conserve their energy, which is why it’s common to see them floating on their backs on the surface of the water.

World-famous Sea Otter

SANTA CRUZ, CA — Before his photos made Otter 841 world-famous for her harassment of surfers — or, rather, theirs of 841, because the people whose boards have had huge bites taken from them are not exactly innocent — Mark Woodward was just a semi-retired guy who liked poking around Santa Cruz with his camera and taking pretty pictures.

The 62-year-old amateur photographer snaps photos of lots of things besides sea otters. He is a citizen journalist whose photos of floods, mudslides and other disastrous spring weather events were a vital link to people cut off from the communication. He plans to do more of that as a community service. It’s one way he can help. A lifelong resident, he loves Santa Cruz.

Woodward was at Cowells Beach on June 18 to photograph Black Surf Club Santa Cruz’s Juneteenth paddle out when he saw the now infamous sea otter taking a ride. He moved his camera, focused it and snapped a series of pictures that would ignite a fierce debate about whose ocean it is, anyway?

Woodward figured it was “a fluke,” a funny one, but still a one-off. But 10 days later, 841 hopped on another board and took a little sail. Woodward posted his photos under his social media handle, Native Santa Cruz, and “that was the start of the madness,” he told Patch in a phone interview Thursday.

The madness included more requests for his photos from more places around the world than Woodward could have imagined and a collaboration with four University of California, Santa Barbara students doing a documentary on human and animal interaction in the coastal area. And the madness certainly includes what Woodward calls a bungled response to the otter’s aggression by wildlife officials, at least from a public relations standpoint.

“Two days later, the Monterey Bay Aquarium reached out,” Woodward said. “We talked for an hour, and I learned a lot about 841. She does have a history.”

Click here for the full story and some great photos of the Sea Otter!

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