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Sutro Sam, the San Francisco River Otter

January 11, 2013

North American River Otters (Lontra canadensis), (c) Dmitry Azovtsev (, under a Creative Commons license

Otters are just about the cutest, most endearing animals to ever exist. Ever. Seriously. Have you ever watched otters playing? How can you not just melt?

The good folks at Grist reported that a river otter has been spotted in San Francisco (the city’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, to be exact) for the first time in at least 30 years. Dubbed Sutro Sam for the area of the park where he lives, he’s been spotted since October. No other otters have been seen, so it’s unclear whether or not Sutro will stick around, but either way it’s a great sign that an urban area might be able to support this (very) charismatic species. The concept of “flagship species” in conservation biology is relevant here. A species that is particularly attractive to the public can be used to spur interest in conserving that species’ range, and subsequently the other biodiversity found in that area (think of pandas, tigers, whales and wolves). Otters fit the bill here, I think, and might be a great flagship species in any urban area (have I mentioned how cute they are??).

The River Otter Ecology Project conducts research on Lontra canadensis in Central and Northern California, as well as providing educational programs and materials. They also run a citizen science project called Otter Spotter (the cuteness!), where residents of the area can help the researchers gather data on the local population. Check it out! And then go to YouTube to watch this video of river otters doing their thing.

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