Friday, March 15, 2013

Sutro Sam, The Vagrant Otter

The Sutro Baths are weird enough as they are, but the addition of a vagrant River Otter this winter has spiced up the place...with a musky Mustelid odor.

A historic landmark that doubles as a decent birding spot, the baths are one of the last places you would expect a River Otter to take up residence. The baths consist of a small freshwater pond that lies right on the rocky, windswept coast of San Francisco, just a few miles south of the Golden Gate Bridge. No one is quite sure where this isolated otter came from, but it wouldn't be surprising if it had to navigate the turbulent channel between the Marin Headlands and San Francisco's Presidio to get there.

With the rest of the city's marshes drained, paved over or otherwise destroyed, no river otters have been seen in the city for decades. People have been going crazy over Sutro Sam since his has gotten to the point of the National Park Service giving him his own set of barriers to keep nosy visitors (and their dogs) outside of the bath ruins. How many wild otters get that kind of welcome?

River Otters look funny out of water, although they seem comfortable on land, unlike Sea Otters. Sam slithered up the side of this wall with little effort.

Sutro Sam has been tearing apart gulls, coots and countless fish since his arrival. He is the new uberpredator of the ecosystem...unless he manages to catch all the fish in the pond, who knows how long he might stay?

Sutro Sam shows off his wide, flat tail that helps give him speed and maneuverability under water.

This is looking west from the Sutro Baths. Sam undoubtedly had to swim through this to get to the pond, which he probably only knew was there because he could smell it...the Sutro Baths lie above sea level (behind a wall) and the pond is not visible from sea if you are an otter.

The Sutro Baths often have a Great Blue Heron. This one literally follows Sam around, trying to pick off distracted fish trying to escape the otter.

Sutro Sam does not pay the heron much attention, although he is probably a bit resentful of the fish that it may get from his efforts.

On my visit there, only 2 people went around the barriers and ignored the signs put up to keep people away from Sutro Sam. Amazingly, neither of them were photographers. This man with an ill-fitting suit was one of the trespassers. At least he looked hilarious...I feel like this is a scene from a cheesy music video.


  1. That little guy is too cute! At least Florida isn't the only place people ignore the barriers.

  2. I can see why Sam is such a hit! River Otters are so much fun to watch!

  3. Haha yeah, pretty sure I've seen the same scene in a karaoke video for "Creep" or something.

  4. River Otters are so entertaining, glad that you got to photograph Sutro Sam!

    I wish I could understand 'why' people do not read signs, why they have to ignore them if they have read them and I also want to know why this guy's suit looks like it belongs to someone much larger than him.

  5. Oh man that effin face kills me. Oh effin face that man kills me in my sleep. Or busts into gangnam style. One of the two.

  6. Super cool. I remember taking swimming lessons at the baths, and all the exotic taxidermy mounts on either side of the majestic stairs leading to them. It's nice the otter is enjoying what's left of the place. He's a brave loner.