Authorities are trying to capture that otter and remove it from its native habitat for climbing on a man’s surfboard in Santa Cruz, California. In a video of the incident published on Twitter, the otter is seen splashing on the surfer’s board where she appears to be playing with him.
Wildlife officers described the water dog’s behavior as aggressive.
This video of the sea otter attacking a surfboard was shared with me yesterday and is being posted with the permission of the photographers. The video must remain in this tweet to be shared. This is a dangerous water dog, avoid it if possible! pic.twitter.com/N7qPMFVRrt
— Native Santa Cruz (@NativeSantaCruz) July 10, 2023
People after a joke that the otter has joined the orca rebellion, referring to the deadly whale attacks on boats off the coast of Spain. A said the researcher the orcas are attacking sailboats for an “adrenaline shot”.
If you watch the video, you will notice that the otter waits at the other end of the board for the surfer. But the language used by the media, and the authorities they cite, is much more significant than the behavior of the water dog.
War on nature
We often use the language of combat to describe unusual events and to make sense of what is seen as an imbalance in the world.
Words like “conflict” and “clash” come into the narrative of opposition, which is a simpler way of telling stories than, say, “unusual interaction”.
Often, as storytellers in all fields, people describe the world, our local environment and what they are “touching”, as a kind of battle – for example: “the force of nature” and “the triumph of civilization”.
Any number of things could explain the Santa Cruz dog’s behavior, including fear, anxiety, defensive territorial, curiosity and maybe even aggression. People blame the otter, without stopping to think about how we use this space – their home – it could mean otters.
This particular otter could go through the trauma of being caught, torn from her home and relocated. But it is the otter that is considered the aggressor.
Physicist and ecological philosopher Karen Barad he urges us to reconsider our interactions with the ecological world not as one of ownership or dominion, but engagement.
She wrote that life is not an individual affair and that people do not exist apart from their interactions with others. Individuals of any species survive as part of being entangled with other living creatures.
Our connection to the natural world
Otters and humans alike inhabit this coastal aquatic space in unique but intertwined ways. When our relationship with nature becomes conflicted, there will be casualties, and they are often animals.
We attribute human character traits, such as anger, to animals without applying sensitivity to their motives. We reduce their complex experiences, emotions and cognition to a single action if they don’t behave as we think they should (the water dog must be cute).
Think of cliches, such as “stubborn as a mule”. Who would not be stubborn under the threat of whipping or carrying a huge load?
If we reverse the language in the news stories about the sea otter we could say that a large aggressive animal invaded the sea otter in its home. And the relatives of that animal want to kidnap her and put her in prison.
The language of the fight does not work for either party. It doesn’t work for the people who apply it, because when you change the language you ignore the fact that people are also scared, and they get confused because they think this animal is so cute and so important turning against them.
People love otters, but the Western representation of the otter has disconnected us from the random and varied complexity of their behavior in nature.
This story reminds me of a childhood trauma of an entire generation that watched the beautiful film Bright Water Ring (1969), where the otter is the star. This film is an interesting portrayal of the individuality of animals and how that conflicts with the way they are reduced to pests or nuisances.
Movies and stories often use a specific animal or human character to remind us that everyone on Earth is an individual. What we feel is how we can categorize animals as species or other supergroups destroy them as “vermin” or “pests”.
Are people who are not pests to many animals just trying to thrive? The Evening Standard article concludes with this quote from a marine expert: “They’re actually pretty aggressive animals. They’re not as cute and cuddly as people think.”
It could easily be talking about people.