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January 7, 2013

Sutro Sam - The First River Otter in SF in a Century

Last week, a river otter made the local news here when he appeared, whimsically, at the ruins of the Sutro Bathhouses on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, inside the city limits of the city and county of San Francisco.

Although I've seen a good number of sea otters along the Monterey Bay, I can't say as I've ever seen a river otter in the wild. It's sad to think that we nearly wiped out the river otters in North America for waterproof coats, but that's what happened. The beavers were converted into hats, the river otters into coats, and the whales into lamp oil.

I'm not certain when he first appeared at the bath houses - some say as far back as September of 2012. But the secret was blown when he made the front page of the SF Chronicle last week. Then ABC news picked up the story. I believe Mark and Laura said they heard about it in New Zealand. So, the secret was out as of last week. The first river otter in a century had somehow made the Sutro Baths his home.

This, in and of itself is kinda odd because, these places are ruins. As in...dangerous. The Sutro Baths burned in 1965, and since then, they've sort of been neglected, if you can imagine. Think of carbon steel rods jutting from concrete berms, tourists balanced precariously between mossy green ponds on narrow concrete beams, skipping over broken boards, etc.

No one knows for sure where Sutro Sam came from. The best guess is that he came from a colony of otters in Marin County headlands at Point Reyes, and then swam south across the Golden Gate.

However he got there, he found the ruins of the Sutro baths, a half century after they burned, and someone had been pumping goldfish in there, for whatever reason. My assumption is that he'd never tasted a goldfish, but he seems to have taken quite a shine to them.

Sam shares the ruined Sutro baths with a surprising diversity of wildlife, including, but not limited to, Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias), Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) , American Coots (Fulica americana), California Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), various gulls, and many other birds I've not yet identified.

These shots were taken on Jan 4th-5th in the city and county of San Francisco, California at the ruins of the Sutro Bath House.

The images were all captured on a Canon EOS 50D frame and a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM image-stabilized, ultra-sonic telescopic zoom lens, or on a Canon EOS 50D frame with a Canon EF 600mm f/4.0 IS USM lens, with or without a Canon 1.4x teleconverter on a Gitzo carbon fibre tripod with a Gitzo GT5541LS carbon fiber tripod and the Wimberley II (WH-200) head with the Wimberley P-40 Arca-style quick-release plate.

By coincidence, I was there for a full-on photography-tour meetup of about 30-40 local photographers, I'm happy to report that I had the biggest setup there, and don't think it wasn't noticed. Several people were there, shooting, on assignment. None of them had the gear that I had. Was very difficult for them to learn that their photography companies couldn't afford to field the gear that I carried around just for idle amusement. But such is life.

This slideshow features a song by Miike Snow called Cult Logic.

The images are compiled into an 8 Meg (3:42) Adobe Flash slideshow (sutro_sam.swf) that you should be able to open and view with any browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, etc.). To view the slideshow, just click on the photo above. If you want to view the slideshow as a Windows executable, you can play this version (sutro_sam.exe), and it allows you to play, pause, skip forward, backwards, etc.

Image post-processing was done in Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended. The slideshow was created using Imagematics Stillmotion Pro.

Click here to view the other slideshows.

Lyrics in the extended entry.

Posted by Rob Kiser on January 7, 2013 at 8:12 PM


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