The San Francisco Bay Area was recently abuzz over a lone river otter in Sutro Baths, affectionately called “Sutro Sam.” Although Sutro Sam’s brief stint in the swimming complex ruins is now over, there are still plenty of other places in the Bay Area to see wild river otters. Rodeo Lagoon in the Marin Headlands is one of these places.

Rodeo Lagoon
Rodeo Lagoon.
Photo by Andrea Dougall

With the help of citizens, The River Otter Ecology Project (ROEP) studies these animals to better understand their role in the Bay Area’s costal watersheds. Their OTTER SPOTTER Citizen Science Project asks the public to submit any observational or physical data that can be used to document where river otters are in the Bay Area; photographs and video-recording of river otters are highly encouraged. Rodeo Lagoon is a site that this organization closely monitors due to high river otter activity. At least 5 individuals have been spotted in this location, likely a female with pups and a male.

Scratches in the sand indicate river otter activity.
Scratches in the sand indicate river otter activity.
Photo by Andrea Dougall

Unlike sea otters, river otters spend quite a lot of time on land. They are great runners, rock and tree climbers, and sleep in dens. This versatility allows river otters to eat everything from crustaceans to other mammals, which can be seen in their scat.

The River Otter Ecology Project collects river otter scat samples to learn more about wild river otters' diets
The River Otter Ecology Project collects river otter scat samples to learn more about wild river otters’ diets.
Photo by Andrea Dougall

Below is a QUEST video of a wild river otter scat dissection at Big Break Regional Shoreline.

Although river otters are not endangered, they are listed as a Species of Special Concern due to polluted waterways, habitat loss and being hunted for their fur. It can be difficult to spot river otters in the wild, but with the public’s help, ROEP has created an interactive map of Bay Area river otter sightings. Each pin details what was sighted and when, which may be helpful to optimistic hikers who would like to see them. If outdoor trekking isn’t your thing, there are a number of zoos and aquariums in the Bay Area that exhibit river otters, such as The San Francisco Zoo, Oakland Zoo, CuriOdyssey and this coming summer, Aquarium of the Bay.

A river otter at Rodeo Lagoon
A river otter at Rodeo Lagoon.
Photo by Andrea Dougall
River Otters in the Marin Headlands 18 June,2013Rachael Rufino

  • Juan Mario Inca

    Really interesting Rachael, thanks​!​

    I think that you would be really interested in some recent research that I have come across about crowds and citizen science.​ ​

    It’s called “The Theory of Crowd Capital” and you can download it here if you’re interested:

    Really powerful stuff!

    • Rachael R

      Thank you Juan for sharing that paper. I can’t wait to read it! -Rachael


Rachael Rufino

Rachael is an Animal Keeper and blogger at CuriOdyssey with over 15 years of experience working with wildlife. She volunteers at The Marine Mammal Center, is President of the Bay Area chapter for the American Association of Zookeepers (AAZK), and is a member of AAZK’s Communication Committee and Professional Development Committee. Rachael earned her B.A. in Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice from San Francisco State University.

Read her previous contributions to QUEST, a project dedicated to exploring the Science of Sustainability.

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