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Mischievous otter remains at large in Santa Cruz after harassing surfers

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

A pesky otter in Santa Cruz, Calif., is vexing surfers. For several weeks, the creature has harassed people in the water, even climbing on surfboards and chewing on them. Erin Malsbury reports from member station KAZU.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)

ERIN MALSBURY, BYLINE: Over the weekend, several otters drifted through the kelp beds near a popular Central California surf spot in Santa Cruz.

MARK WOODWARD: And there's four of them right there. Doesn't look like any of them are hurting.

MALSBURY: Mark Woodward is among a dozen people watching from the cliff looking for one otter in particular. Here's another, Mitch Bierer.

MITCH BIERER: We actually just drove down from San Francisco to see the sea otter.

MALSBURY: Known as Otter 841, the brown furry fugitive has become famous for getting onto surfboards and sometimes destroying them. Surfers Patricio Guerrero and Pol Riera describe one recent strange encounter.

PATRICIO GUERRERO: Encounters of the otter kind. It started kind of, like, biting the board, so I started spinning in circles, and the otter was, like, following the tail. And then it got bored of me and went to Pol. And then it really did some work on Pol's board.

POL RIERA: It just took, like, a chunk of the nose of the board I was riding.

MALSBURY: Wildlife officials have tried for weeks to catch the otter. They want to return her to captivity, where she was born five years ago. Her mom, pregnant with her, had been captured after she'd been harassing kayakers. A team of experts has baited Otter 841 with surfboards. They've tried different types of nets. Scuba divers even used a special underwater propulsion system with a trap. Colleen Young, a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, describes that dive.

COLLEEN YOUNG: The visibility was poor, and the kelp was really thick. And basically, I was able to get under her, but I wasn't able to get the trap high enough out of the water to actually get her in the trap. So it was extremely close and a very, very frustrating day.

MALSBURY: This is not the first time they've tried catching 841. She started approaching surfers last September. Mark Woodward took the photos that went viral of the otter getting on surfboards. He says it's hard not to root for her.

WOODWARD: I'm not trying to make light of it because I know it's a serious situation, but it's almost become comical, you know, with all the attempts they make, and they just can't get her. She is one smart otter.

MALSBURY: Officials say they'll continue trying to capture the otter as long as she keeps getting too close to surfers.

For NPR News, I'm Erin Malsbury in Santa Cruz, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Erin Malsbury