San Francisco Bay Area: Return of the River Otters

With all the talk about natural devastation, it’s great to have some good new to tout!

The Bay Area is awesome – even river otters share my sentiment!

In a previous blog post, “San Francisco Bay Area: Where the Weather, Water and Air are Priceless,” I mentioned how lucky we are to have it all in the Bay Area.

Remember the guy selling bottled air in China? That served as a nice reminder that even though there are almost ten million people (and almost as many cars!) in the Bay Area, we still manage to have some of the best air quality in the world.

And the same is true for our water!

Demand may exceed supply in the real estate realm in these parts, but people who want to find their way to living here – and so are the river otters!

The San Francisco Bay Area was home to a large population of river otters until about 50 years ago, then their populations dwindled due to pollution and urban sprawl. But now these clever and determined little guys are returning (just like I did after traveling the world and realizing the Bay Area is my favorite place to live)!

Sutro Sam is famous because he was one of the first river otters to come back to the Bay Area after roughly 50 years and he happen to choose a pretty public house at Lands End in San Francisco. Many people were drawn there to watch this cute little guy and that gave the National Park Service and other environmentalists an opportunity to educate the public about the importance of healthy watersheds.

Sam’s return to the area was a cause to celebrate because it proved that all of the work we have been doing to clean up our waterways has paid off!

And I’d say that these adorable little guys are a good incentive to keep it that way! Otters are clever and enterprising – and fun loving, too! They’re a perennial favorite at the Oakland Zoo, check them out during your next visit.  (Oakland Zoo is, btw, the best zoo! Not at all animal-prison like!)


  1. The fur trade

Until 1962, fur trapping was legal and the lavish coats of the river otters were extremely sought after by trappers. Gross, right? Sea otters, too. Poor guys.

  1. Contaminated water

Prior to the Clean Water Act (passed in 1972), rivers were very polluted and the toxins had a horrible effect on the otters and their reproductive abilities.

  1. Lack of real estate

We are a bit greedy that way; employing a “make way for the bulldozers – let’s build here, too” kinda attitude most everywhere we go! So, of course, due to the surge in population of the Bay Area, the natural habitat of the river otters shrunk tremendously.

Become an Otter Spotter! Find out more and sign up here.


San Francisco Bay Area_Kristen von Bargen5

American Beaver. Photo credit Wikipedia.

Their recent return is even more surprising than the river otters considering most ecologists didn’t consider the Bay Area to be their natural habitat until recently. (Plus they were pretty much “trapped out of existence” by the mid 1800’s.)

The first one that I remember hearing about was when an otter popped up in Martinez (Martinez!), in 2005.  Next came a couple in Los Gatos, and then a family in downtown San Jose two years ago! I’ll bet that one threw some folks for a loop!

Why should we give a dam?

(Get it? Damn/dam. Wordplay: endlessly entertaining)

The return of the beaver is even further proof that the waterways of the San Francisco Bay Area are coming back to life! Perhaps the best part of their return is that they work hard to balance the ecosystem and help solve drought and water shortage problems. We could learn a thing or two..!

“Leave it to Beavers,” Watch this Nature documentary to check out how these little critters do big things for the environment.

To learn more about Beavers in the Bay Area, check out this fabulous website: Worth a Dam.

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