Meeting Katie this week at the Blue Ocean Film Festival was an adventure in learning. She’s an aspiring marine biologist and surfer who now lives on the Monterey Peninsula. Friendly, smart, and really fun to hang out with, she’s a woman on a mission.
In Otter 501, Katie’s story begins when she discovers a week old baby sea otter stranded on the beach while kayaking. Not knowing what to do, she grabs her cell phone and makes the call that changed her life. Since then, she’s started a swell of enthusiasm and stewardship for what I think is possibly the cutest creature in the ocean.
Her new-found friend was rescued by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation Program and given a snazzy name: Otter 501. Later 501, became part of a groundbreaking program introducing orphaned pups to a surrogate sea otter mother who rears them for months helping develop the necessary skills to survive in the wild.
Returning an orphaned otter back to the wild isn’t easy. Volunteers like Katie are instructed not to bond with the animals or create dependency. That’s right, no cuddling. Instead, the surrogate mothers help the otter pups hone the skills needed back in their natural home- the big, blue ocean. In the film, Katie volunteers at the aquarium to monitor her pup’s progress with the professional detachment necessary for the otter’s survival. When it’s finally time to release 501 back into the ocean, the moment brings salty tears to the whole house.
How does the story end? Does 501 beat the odds? Is she out there somewhere in Monterey Bay? I won’t ruin the ending, but this movie is a must-see for surfer girls, and anyone who cares about marine life. It may put a little spring in your cross-step and hope in your heart. You’ll also learn a heck of a lot about sea otters.
If you happen to meet one while surfing in Monterey, here’s Katie’s advice: ”You may be curious, but it’s best not to paddle toward a sea otter. They may look like they’re just having fun, but they’re actually busy trying to stay warm and find food. They consume their entire body weight every four days and it takes all their time to do this. Staying alive in otter world is not as easy as it looks.”
Update: Katie will be surfing the warm waters of Las Olas this season on a surf scholarship bequeathed by fearless open-ocean paddler, Roz Savage. Roz was awarded the scholarship last year, but generously wanted to pass it on to a sister of the sea. Read more about Roz here.
To hear Bev’s complete interview with Katie recorded live during the Blue Ocean Film Festival in Monterey, CA, click here.
Bev Sanders is founder and president of Las Olas Surf Safaris for Women. She started surfing at 44 continuing her lifelong pursuit of introducing women to sports.