A river otter on Lake Merritt?

river otter
If you spot a river otter, leave it alone and contact the River Otter Ecology Project. Photo by Jaymi Heimbuch. Click this image for more photos.

A couple weeks ago, something pretty unusual was spotted in downtown Oakland. A North American river otter stopped by the Lake Merritt boathouse, posed for a photo, and caused a bit of a stir.

Naturally, the photo found its way onto Facebook and Twitter, and Save The Bay passed it along with a sense of celebration: Huzzah for spunky and adorable Bay critters! Congrats to Oakland for reconnecting the lake to the Bay! Thanks to everyone who works to make the Bay healthy for humans and wildlife!

But then, at the request of one of our environmental partners, we agreed to delete our post from Facebook. Wildlife groups were justifiably concerned about the “Sutro Sam effect”—you know, the phenomenon where a bunch of bozos think it’s okay to approach a wild animal, offer it food, throw stuff to provoke a reaction, and unleash their dogs for uninvited play dates.

In retrospect, I’m not sure what we expected to accomplish by removing our Facebook post. If the otter (Let’s call her Merritt Mary) had decided to take up residence, there would have been no keeping the lid on it. We all know that soon enough there would be viral videos, a Merritt Mary Twitter account, and in all likelihood a parade of people getting all up in Merritt Mary’s face.

The fact is, many of us are generally pretty clueless when it comes to animals in the wild. We tend to imagine them as pets or pests, when we think of them at all. And when it comes to San Francisco Bay, we often forget that beyond the postcard-perfect view, it is first and foremost a habitat for hundreds of amazing species. Otters, sea lions, seals, porpoises, skates, sharks, jellyfish, octopuses, herring, pipefish, rockfish and many others make their home in the Bay. We don’t often see them, so it can be easy to forget that our own bad behaviors affect them every day—from the plastic bags we let escape into the environment to littered toxic cigarette butts we give so little thought to.

Personally, I’m still hoping that Merritt Mary will make her way back to the boathouse and take up residence somewhere just out of onlookers’ reach, like the sly sea lions famously have done over at San Francisco’s Pier 39. We could all use a reminder of the wildlife in our midst, if only to remind us not to be such bozos.

If you spot a river otter in the Bay Area, report your sighting to the River Otter Ecology Project

Weekly Roundup January 25, 2013

weekly roundupThough scientists are saying that storms like Sandy are the “new normal” the public has not lost its appetite for shoreline living. As rebuilding continues apace, some are asking how long we can afford to subsidize and protect developments along our nation’s shoreline. The San Francisco Waterfront is not as immune to this threat as development plans in the city might indicate. Sutro Sam, the river otter living in the ruins of Sutro Baths is indeed cute, but the public should know that otters are wild animals that may bite. So don’t get too close! The abundant herring run in San Francisco this year is not only great for hungry birds, but it’s also a sign of improved water quality in the Bay after the fishery collapsed following the Cosco Busan spill. However, fisheries managers are concerned about the lack of older fish in this year’s run. Save The Bay hosted an epic group of volunteers at MLK Shoreline on Martin Luther King Day. Nearly 800 plants were put in the ground—a great effort toward our goal of 30,000 plants for the season.

San Francisco Chronicle 1/18/2013
Is Rebuilding in Hurricane Zones Wise?
Denise Tortorello, a real estate agent at Riviera Realty in Point Pleasant, N.J., said she can’t tell yet where property values are headed since Hurricane Sandy demolished a string of beach towns built on a slender strip of barrier islands in the Atlantic. “I’m sitting in my office, and I’m looking at the National Guard right outside out my window,” she said. On a December day, the temperature outside was 65 degrees.
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San Francisco Bay Guardian 1/22/2013
Sea Level Rise and Development in SF
Naval bases, power plants, ports, highways – trillions of dollars of investment – sit on U.S. coasts because it once made sense to put them there. As people flocked to the shores, tiny beach towns became cities. Congress is hardly maintaining roads and bridges; its appetite for giant new sea walls around New York Harbor has yet to be tested.
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One Earth Blog 1/21/2013
California’s Newest Star is Otterly Adorable—And a Biter
Does it sound like bragging when I say that I knew San Francisco’s celebrity otter before he was famous? A video posted on Bay Nature last fall led me to the Sutro Baths — a 19th-century swimming complex built on the coast and abandoned in the 1960s — in search of a male river otter who had been spotted hanging around the ruins. I headed out one day in early November, when the place was nearly deserted.

San Francisco Chronicle 1/24/2013
Lots of Herring Hit Bay Area
Great swirling schools of herring converged in San Francisco Bay this month, drawing fishermen, sea lions, harbor seals and thousands upon thousands of birds looking to fatten up for the winter.
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Bay Nature 1/23/2013
Planting in Memory of MLK
Save the Bay rounded up 100 or so volunteers on Monday to help out with planting high transition zone plants, the drought tolerant varieties that are considered “ecosystem engineers.” Not only do they can outcompete the nasty invasives and flourish in disturbed soil close to trails, they provide habitat during high tide events and filter pollutants and trash before they reach the San Francisco Bay.
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