"Temporary Trail Closure to Dogs" sign on the trail down to Sutro Baths (1896) due to Sutro Sam the river otter's unusual visit.
Near Merrie Way, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, San Francisco, California: 21 January 2013
Generally known for being cute, playful and curious, the North American river otter inhabits inland waterways and coastal areas in the Pacific Northwest, New England and Atlantic states, the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and Canada.
They are also known to live in parts of northern California but in recent years have been spotted closer to the San Francisco Bay Area, including Muir Woods, Tennessee Cove, Rodeo Lagoon and elsewhere along the Marin Headlands.
In order to study, better understand and provide public outreach on the river otter's habitat ecology and conservation status there, the River Otter Ecology Project was established in February 2012.
The Marin County-based project has logged over 200 sightings, including one that would make headlines and help publicize the non-profit's work. In late September 2012, volunteers noticed a rare sight—a river otter at the Sutro Baths ruins, the first such observation in San Francisco in at least fifty years.
Before long, news spread of the Sutro Baths river otter and the one-to-four-year-old male got the nickname "Sutro Sam", an unofficial Twitter account, paintings of himself, a leading role in a children's book and possibly too much in-person attention from humans and canines.
Concerned for the health of Sutro Sam, a wild animal living in a popular tourist and local attraction, the River Otter Ecology Project worked with the National Park Service at Golden Gate National Recreation Area who posted signs warning of the unusual presence and temporarily restricting access.
Over the course of the next months, Sutro Sam spent time sunning himself on the ruins, dredging the muddy bottom of the pool and eating carp, fish and later on water birds like ducks.
Given the proximity, I had scheduled to follow our visit at 3 Fish Studios on Monday, 21 January 2013 with a trip to Sutro Baths. I wanted to show Marc the area, take photographs, and yes, perhaps catch a glimpse of Sutro Sam myself.
There were a few other people who had obviously come to Sutro Baths to do just that. I do not know if they were successful, but Sutro Sam did not make any appearances during our time there.
The last sighting of Sutro Sam was on Saturday, 23 February 2013. In the weeks leading up to his final appearance, volunteers had noticed he was catching fewer and smaller fish.
Either that lack of food or his natural instinct to find a mate are the likely causes for his departure according to Megan Isadore, co-founder and director of outreach and education for the project.