How a surfing sea otter revealed the dark side of human nature

Animal News : How a surfing sea otter revealed the dark side of human nature
Sea otter mom and pup, photo: Canva

This is a shorter version of an article written by Patricia MacCormack, Professor of Continental Philosophy at Anglia Ruskin University. Read the full article here

Surfers often talk about how the sport helps them reconnect with nature, but a recent episode involving a sea otter with a love for surfboards shows just how brittle our love for wildlife really is.

US authorities are trying to capture and remove the sea otter from her native environment for climbing onto a man’s surfboard in Santa Cruz, California. In a video of the incident, the otter is seen climbing onto the surfer’s board, where she appears to play with it. Wildlife officials described the otter’s behaviour as aggressive.

Many things could explain the Santa Cruz otter’s behavior, including fear, anxiety, protective territorialism, curiosity and perhaps even aggression. 

People blame the otter without thinking what our use of this space – their home – may mean to otters. This particular otter may go through the trauma of being trapped, torn from her home and relocated. Yet it is the otter that is considered the aggressor.

We impose human character traits, such as anger, onto animals without applying sensitivity to their motives. We reduce their complex experiences, feelings and cognition to a single action if they don’t behave how we think they should (otters must be cute).

If we reverse the language in the news stories about the sea otter, we could say the sea otter had her home invaded by a large, aggressive animal (the surfer). And that animal’s kin now wants to kidnap and incarcerate her.

We need to learn to share the Earth. And for that, we need to change both our language and behavior. Combat metaphors must be replaced with language about sharing and opening space for the animal.

This story reminds me of the childhood trauma of an entire generation who watched the beautiful film Ring of Bright Water (1969), where an otter is the star. Films and stories often use a distinctive animal or human character to remind us that each of Earth’s occupants is individual. 

Categorizing animals as a species or other mass groupings is what makes us feel as though we can destroy them as “vermin” or “pests.”

Are humans not pests to many animals just trying to thrive? The Evening Standard article ends with this quote from a marine expert: “They’re actually pretty aggressive animals. They’re not as cute and cuddly as people tend to think.”

He could easily have been talking about humans.

Credit: The Conversation via Reuters Connect

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