September 13, 1995
From San Francisco Correspondent Don Knapp
MONTEREY, California (CNN) -- People can't seem to get enough of the cute and cuddly sea otters of California's Monterey Bay.
Federal protection nurtured the creatures back from the brink of extinction at the hands of 19th century fur traders. Now, the popular otters that play along Monterey's Cannery Row and Fisherman's Wharf draw tourists and a well-funded support group of other protectors, including Monterey Bay Aquarium's orphan otter program.
So when one of the otter program's star graduates got a little too aggressive with a group of divers, it was bad news for everyone -- otters included.
Five years ago, an otter orphan named April headed out on its own in Monterey Bay. This week it met up with scuba diver Maggie Waugh, who thought the otter who swam over her was "cute" until it started biting her all over her arm. (128K aiff) Another diver, Jonathan Cushing, said it was "like a big dog playing."
When she was released (630K QuickTime movie) into the bay in 1990, April was weaned from the human who mothered her and taught her to forage and survive in the wild. "April was the first female otter to go through the program, and actually we learned a lot of otter behavior from this animal," said Jean Brennan of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
One thing they learned is that newly released female otters don't high-tail it for distant waters -- April just hung around the aquarium pestering people, reportedly climbing aboard kayaks and surf boards, crashing beach picnics, even stealing clothing.
The aquarium chose to tolerate that sort of behavior, but the latest incident with the divers was too much. April was placed back in captivity. Her next stop: a remote location far away from the familiar surroundings of Monterey Bay -- a place that Brennan said will "give April a chance to get back and re-establish with the wild population, and basically, have a time off from human beings."
If April makes her way back to Monterey Bay, she'll find herself locked up for life in an aquarium tank, along with other otters who couldn't kick the people habit.
Copyright © 1995 Cable News Network, Inc.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.