Sutro Sam Settles in at San Francisco’s Sutro Baths, 13 January 2013


Good Morning:

Say hello to Sutro Sam:

Sutro Sam Swimming Past Reflection of the Cliff House

Sutro Sam Swimming Past Reflection of the Cliff House

Sam is a North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) that has found a home at the ruins of the Sutro Baths near our famous Cliff House. As the first river otter to appear in San Francisco in at least a half century, Sutro Sam has become a local celebrity and tourist attraction. Almost everything about his arrival baffles the scientists who have observed him, starting with, how on earth did he ever get there? The nearest populations of river otters live in Marin County, so he probably journeyed from there, but how did he cross the Golden Gate? Swimming, or walking across the bridge? If he swam, why didn’t something eat him?

Sutro Sam and the Pelicans

Sutro Sam and the Pelicans

One non-mystery consists of what he eats. Like the pelicans in the above picture, Sam eats lots of fish, and the baths have them. For no good ecological reason, San Franciscans have dumped unwanted aquarium goldfish into the Baths for decades. Now if any creature with zero instinct for self-preservation exists, it’s the goldfish, and Sutro Sam has feasted on the now-decent sized carp at will. But this presents another mystery: how long can the local food source last? How can the locale sustain such an eater as an otter?

Sutro Sam Carrying Grasses to Nest

Sutro Sam Carrying Grasses to Nest

When I visited early Saturday morning, the otter spent all of his time tearing out water grasses on the east side of the artificial pond created by the ruins and taking them to an underground burrow in the northeast corner. I don’t know how good is the hearing of river otters, but he seemed not to hear or to care about the clicking, whirring, or beeping of the cameras belonging to the three photographers taking pictures (and I strongly recommend visiting very early in the morning for the best shots). The possibility exists that because otters are social creatures centered around the family, after he finishes his crib Sutro Sam will return to Marin County, and return to San Francisco with a lady friend. After all, the ocean view from the front porch is, um, well, not terrible:

Sutro Sam with Seal Rocks in the Background

Sutro Sam with Seal Rocks in the Background

However, will Mrs. Sam like the new neighborhood? If/when she responds to Sam seductively seductive silky smooth seduction and returns with him to his sexy bachelor pad, will she like what she sees? Sutro Sam has ravaged the local population of self-preservation-free goldfish. The burrow resides in one of the biggest tourist attractions of one of America’s largest cities. I imagine her taking one look at the new home and saying something like this: “Hey! I swam across the Golden Gate and almost got eaten by sharks and orcas for this?! You lied to me, Sam! What kind of crib is this?! There’s no goldfish in the fridge because you ate them all! And there’s no privacy! Look at all those humans looking at me! And–oh, no! They have cameras!! The humans are taking pictures of me!! You think I want humans taking pictures of me mating with you! No way! I’m going back home to Mother, I should have listened to her. She was right about you, you no-good bastard!”

Good luck, Sutro Sam, for however long you stay in San Francisco.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–Should you visit the Cliff House, the Sutro Baths and Seal Rocks, keep in mind a few things. One, river otters are unpredictable and have powerful bites. Keep your distance and use a zoom lens. Two, at high tide, such as yesterday morning, the Baths become one of America’s more hazardous urban destinations thanks to the pounding surf.

3 responses »

  1. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Illumination – Sunrise at San Francisco’s Sutro Baths 12 January 2013 « The San Francisco Scene--Seen!

  2. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Beyond – The Age of Wonder « The San Francisco Scene--Seen!

  3. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Unique – Second Shots of San Francisco’s Sutro Sam « The San Francisco Scene--Seen!

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