"the adventures of otto"...

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Posted by kelphead on July 10, 2001 at 14:41:47:

i got this in my e-mail the other day from a friend of mine who subscribes to a freedive list. i hope you enjoy this story (which i've been told is true) as much as i did:

"I paddled out to my favorite local white sea bass spot today to have a look since I had just barbecued the last of my sea bass with friends. After reaching the middle of the kelp bed, I sat up on my paddle board to contemplate my next move. Hearing a slight splashing sound behind me, I turned to see that a sea otter was swimming straight towards me! If you are not familiar with the California Sea Otter, let me tell you that these furry little guys are normally quite timid and avoid humans so having this guy coming over was quite surprising. Otters spend nearly their entire lives in the water and rarely haul out on land.

I watched quietly as he came alongside my paddle board and looked me over with curiosity. Next, he promptly moved to the front of my board and tried to climb up! On this first attempt, he slipped off but then gave it a bit more effort and on his second attempt, heaved his furry little self aboard!

Now it was the two of us sitting atop my board in the middle of the kelp bed; he looking at me and me looking at he. I kept thinking to myself that this isn't supposed to happen but yet it was, so I decided to sit patiently and see what would happen next.

Well, as it turns out, the front of my paddle board with its curved
surface was not too comfortable for "Otto" so he moved to the flat surface of my hatch cover which seemed to be much more to his liking. This was just too weird! I really did want to hunt sea bass but it's not every day you get to share your dive board with a wild sea otter so I decided to just be patient and silently observe. Otto's next move was to sniff out his new surroundings with enthusiasm. Like a curious puppy, he sniffed and explored every feature of my board. He sniffed all around the hatch and seemed fascinated by the two stainless steel hatch locks. He looked me over real well too and must have decided that I was of little concern as the next thing he did was engage himself in a thirty minute long grooming session. This gave me time to think about what a strange encounter this was turning into. These guys usually scurry off the second they see you coming their way but now this one is having a picnic on my board. Since he was nearly in my lap, I was able to look him over for any ID tags but there were none so I don't think he spent any time in captivity as a rescued sea otter. I thought to myself, "How could such a cute and charming little creature have such a voracious appetite for shellfish?" He was a little eating machine on an endless search for calories to stay warm in these cold northern waters.

Well, I hadn't forgotten about my desire to hunt sea bass. I wanted to paddle to the north end of the kelp bed and then let the wind push me back to the south end. This would allow me to look into the water from a sitting position and try to spot sea bass swimming at the surface. I really didn't want to be the one to serve the eviction notice so I decided to see if Otto was willing to go for a cruise.

By this time, my furry little freediving friend was all sacked out on his perch and nearly dry by this time. I slowly slid back on my board and moved into a prone paddling position. Otto didn't budge. I took a few slow strokes and then picked up some speed.

We were off! Otto and me. Cruising to the north end of the kelp bed. Otto seemed to be enjoying the ride but I felt a little odd paddling a sea otter around on top of my dive board. The thought of over zealous Fish and Game officers swooping in and busting me for harassing endangered marine life crossed my mind. By the time we reached the other end of the bed, we came across some of his kin. The other otters were really giving us the eye. They all kept their distance but stared at us almost as if saying "Ooooooooooo, look what Otto do."

I slowly returned to a sitting position on my board and let the wind start to push me back over the kelp beds. Otto just hung out on top of my hatch. He was on his back now and had his head resting on the hinges at the front of the hatch. He was almost completely dry. I had my polarized sunglasses on and looked for sea bass under the kelp. Otto was no doubt dreaming of huge abalone, fat crabs and giant Pismo clams. I only saw one small sea bass on the drift and with the wind and swell starting to pick up, decided I would just paddle back in. I had been with Otto for over and hour. As soon as I started to paddle into shore, the little fuzz head opened one eye and looked around. Since we were headed for shore, he reached into the water and grabbed a strand of kelp to try to stop our movement. When that didn't work, he tried it again and again. Eventually, he gave up then shot me a quick look as if to say "thanks for your hospitality" and unceremoniously slipped into the water and slowly swam off.

Very strange indeed.

Joe T.
Santa Cruz CA"


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