Photo captures otter hitching a ride on kayak

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Sunday, December 4, 2016
Sea Otter
A sea otter surprises a man on his kayaking trip.

MONTEREY, CA (KTRK) -- A Boulder Creek man was celebrating his birthday by kayaking through Elkhorn Slough in Moss Landing when he was surprised by a furry and unexpected party crasher.

Koester said a sea otter jumped onto his kayak, and his wife, Heather Van Nes, snapped some memorable photographs Monday.

"He started swimming over to the boat, swam right up next to the boat and then he just jumped right in," said John Koester. "He rolled onto his back, he started scratching his head. He turned around, started sniffing my shoes."

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Koester said he felt prepared to handle the situation after getting a lesson from Monterey Bay Kayak Rentals about how to handle bold sea otters.

"Making sure the otters in this area feel comfortable in their environment, we do in person orientation before every class, tour or rental," said Monterey Bay Kayak manager Sean Furey.

Gena Bentall is a sea otter biologist and program coordinator for Sea Otter Savvy. She said there can be anywhere between 50-100 otters in the Moss Landing Harbor and Elkhorn Slough, which makes the probability of something like this happening, quite common.

"It is a place where a lot of people are entering the water, engaging in marine recreation and there are also a lot of otters living here as well. The likelihood of some kind of otter encounter is high," she said.

She said the scary thing is that not many people know otters can be dangerous; and even compares them to wolverines.

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"After 15 years of studying sea otters in the wildlife, I definitely would not want to have a sea otter in a small boat with me. They have sharp teeth, they're carnivores, they're clever animals, they can be aggressive if they feel threatened," said Bentall.

Koester said he never felt scared, but after about a 15-minute ride around the harbor, he decided it was time for the otter to go.

"I didn't hit him, you can't touch them, so I pretended like I was going to shush him off the boat with the paddle, and finally he got the message and over the side he went."

A few things to note here, and Koester says they followed all of these rules. You're required to keep a 50-foot distance from sea otters at Elkhorn Slough. If they swim toward you, paddle away. Do not touch them. And remember, you can be fined up to $3,000 for being too close to a sea otter.