Renegade River Otter Takes Up Residence In San Francisco

As cities get cleaner and greener—some of them, anyway—wildlife is pouring into urban areas. There are bald eagles nesting over Washington D.C., red-tail hawks swooping over Central Park, coyotes in Chicago (and everywhere else), and now a wild river otter living in San Francisco, where such creatures haven’t been seen in half a century. The mysterious otter took up residence in one of the freshwater spring-fed pools in the ruins of San Francisco’s Sutro Baths, now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It munches on the carp-sized former-pet goldfish that have themselves grown huge in the freshwater pools, and everyone loves the otter because otters are remarkably adorable animals, even when they kill just like the Gollum.

But are these coyotes and bears and otters, are they also going to kill every last human?

Experts say “probably not.” What predators such as coyotes and raptors do eat are stray cats and other such unpoliced critters, and that means a lot more songbirds along with much healthier parks and gardens. Just as the otter is chomping on goldfish that dumb people dumped when their dumb kids tired of “caring for a living creature from the pet shop,” coyotes and owls and hawks clear out the excess feral cats. It is a beautiful circle of life/bloody death.

But where did this otter, now called “Sutro Sam” by the local media, actually come from? Probably the Marin Headlands, just across the Golden Gate. River otters have been coming back within the protected National Park Service lands of the Point Reyes and Golden Gate National Seashores. Even though the Golden Gate is a wild saltwater channel, the river otters apparently can swim across it without trouble.

Will San Francisco eventually be full of river otters, the way it used to be full of crusty punks and hippies but is now full of outrageously rich people? And when will some Silicon Valley biotech startup reintroduce saber-toothed tigers, to eat all the Silicon Valley millionaires in the Mission?