Discover more from off-grid baby
JUSTICE FOR OTTER 841
& the truth about cancer szn
Hiya! This is Aisha coming to you live on the Cancer new moon, a good time to reflect, take stock, read or listen to this newsletter etc. This post is in collaboration with(we’ll get to their bit later).
We made it! Through Cancer season!! And sorry but we’re wiser for it, whether you’re ready to admit it or not! For those of you who don’t know, Cancer season (roughly June 22 - July 22) is commonly associated with feral emotionality, mental and physical fetal position, moody bitch antics, weaponised tenderness, mommy issues, wide eyes (all the better to manipulate you with), wider moon, grudges, compassion that’s detrimental to everyone involved, resentment, extreme sensitivity, making little snacks in a little apron / “femininity”, tears, rain, river, water, water, water. While I have come to (eventually, reluctantly) love astrology, I find myself barely engaging with horoscopes and other popular zodiac lore anymore because while no-one is particularly lying, this read on cancers is boring!! Don’t you wanna know WHY we’re sad? Why we’re ANGRY? Can we get a yes-fucking-AND!?!
Cancer is the cardinal water sign, meaning it is the boss of water, meaning it is the sea, meaning, obviously, unfortunately, that it is that deep, because Cancers literally invented depth. That’s why you’re scared of us. That’s why each year the season is met with a kind of resounding communal groan, as fire signs who are in some important way emotionally limited reveal themselves with jokes about skipping the season altogether, wanting to get straight to the hedonistic furnace of Leo season. And trust me, I get it, it’s fun there, but there’s no rainbows without rain, gays! And no matter how woke we are, we still love rainbows <3
I know baby, I know. it’s hard to sit with feeling isn’t it. Especially with so much fucking pain around! As a double Cancer (sun & moon), I’ve never really had a choice. Sitting, standing or lying the fuck down, the feelings part isn’t optional. And if you’re alive and feeling in 2023, and you’re honest, and Cancers are really honest, wouldn’t you be disturbed too? Perhaps if I had more agency around it all, I would joke about skipping it altogether too, but for me that might mean skipping life. Or, perhaps by taking my bodymind numbing psych meds daily, I am in fact perpetually skipping Cancer season, thrusting myself desperately into the much more forgiving arms of Leo, the next sign in the zodiac wheel, and the other most prominent sign in my chart, which is overall pretty much a straight water / fire split.
When I was 21 I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder but honestly - and not even just in the spirit of abolishing psychiatry - I think the whole thing was actually just a product of my water and fire energies and inclinations battling it out. I wanna say I am something sweet like the rainbow where fire and water meet, or something sexy like a steampot (?), but I think steam’s colder, wetter, more resigned cousin, condensation is probably more apt. Or maybe it depends on the day. The whole water cycle is mine after all.
I do realise I run the risk of doubling down on the defensive crybaby cancer stereotype by saying all this but luckily I’m at the point in my water cycle / life where I don’t really give a fuck. Obviously, I could go on. This really is the tip of the iceberg, which, funnily enough, also belongs to us. But I’ve never actually had any intention of trying to communicate this stuff or convince anyone. Rather than being disheartened by the constantly recycled bad takes on Cancers, and trying to counteract them, I had come to see the vast misunderstanding as kind of special, actually. A very girls that get it get it situation. Like, you either have the range or you don’t, and not everyone needs to be saved (a cancer proverb, often learnt later in life).
But then Cancer season 2023 happened, and I couldn’t help but spill just a little. Hasn’t it been pleasing to be forced to remember where we came from? (the Ocean, babe!) Doesn’t it make just so much sense that the ocean would be the site of so much glorious non-human animal uprising? Whether you’re into astrology or not, consider why the sign that has forever been associated with gentleness, nature, care, intuition, sensitivity and absolute vulnerability is constantly reduced to crybaby status. Isn’t the constant ridicule of such traits in favour of personal gratification, empty aesthetics and power kind of why we’re fucked in the first place?
Cancer is ruled by the moon and symbolised by the crab. Mushy on the inside, hard as hell from the outside, and ready to CHOP when necessary. They ride the waves like champions, but they know when it’s time to go and they’re not scared to either. They literally carry the home on their back. They’re free. Cancers are often criticised for being passive aggressive and I agree, it’s not our best trait. Let’s see how you like us aggressive aggressive :) Why did humans ever think that as we forcibly beckon the water closer and closer and closer to us through climate change, it would work to keep us safe? Cancers have a massive tolerance for bullshit, but when it’s enough, you’ll know about it. Yes, cancer’s are baby, but they are also Mother. So next time you’re tempted to associate Cancers with tears, won’t you instead consider the iridescent salt water piss-not-piss mystery that squirts out of them when they come?
The orca uprising filled me with a sense of hope that I haven’t experienced since (somewhat problematically) the beginning of the pandemic, when despite how scary and tragic everything was, I was calmed by my deep readiness to submit to something more powerful than us all, powerful enough to stretch out the tacky prongs of late capitalism, to reclaim the land from the chronic epidemic of powerlessness that so many of us suffer from, to just make it fucking stop. My toxic trait is I have trouble believing that humans will ever be able to create a large-scale society based in care or that if we did, the only way to get there will be the result of something… huge and non-human. I thought that thing might be a deadly global virus but alas, might it be an orca uprising instead?
On the first day of cancer season, june 22nd, a 72-year-old retired Dutch physicist and experienced yachtsperson, was sailing solo from Lerwick to Bergen in Norway. He was fishing for mackerel, with a single line off the back of the boat, when an orca suddenly appeared in the clear water, and repeatedly hit the stern of the seven-ton boat. When asked by reporters what he thought the whales are doing, he replied “Maybe the universe knows. We do not.” Mood! We know nothing!
Also on June 22nd, an investigation was officially launched into why a submarine that looked like the backroom of a 1990s community center where a young man would take an teenage girl to try and get his dick sucked didn’t surface after trying to steer down over 12,000 feet into the mighty ocean using an xbox controller. Thing is, I don’t even think the sea or its magnificent creatures are necessarily targeting the rich. But unlike COVID, this time it’s those with the privilege not the obligation to roam who are finding themselves on the front line.
I must say, the story that really stole my heart this season is not an ocean tale but was that of the corvids using the anti-bird spike hostile architecture literally constructed by humans to limit their chances of rest, safety and survival TO BUILD THEIR NESTS!!! Cancer is the sign of the home (from interior design and domesticity to wherever-i-lay-my-hat-nomadism) and the strength and ingenuity in this retaliation had me feeling hopeful and shit!
Then, on July 12th, a video of a surfing otter went viral and after some digging it became clear this wasn’t just an animal rights issue, but is a story about motherhood and the intergenerational trauma of incarceration. Kind of. I’ve actually enlisted the help of my trusted friend and partner Soha Salem aka @lovely_caring_creatures and author of the new substackto explain this one because Soha is a scholar of the animal kingdom but more importantly I have caught them crying about otter 841 on two separate occasions (yes they are) (a water sign).
soha here! ok…
an objectively stunning otter, labelled otter 841, is stealing and chewing surfboards in santa cruz. she’s been deemed a “public safety risk” (boring), and ‘US fish & wildlife’ have tried, and failed, to lure and capture her more than once (lol).
the news broke & i was immediately invested. while cheeky tributes of otter 841 stealing and chewing boards held me down for a moment, i needed more…i needed her story. well i couldn’t quite get her story but i found a story, at least as much as they* (*monterey bay aquarium, national oceanic and atmospheric administration, marine mammal center, US fish & wildlife service and california department of fish & wildlife) want us to know.
it goes back to otter 723. she was raised in captivity and eventually released, where she began approaching people on kayaks and boats (a learned response to people offering her squid). this “atypical behavior” rang alarms for US fish & wildlife to the point of designating her “non-releasable”. they captured her and found that she was pregnant. she gave birth to otter 841 in captivity, raised her “for some time”, and then otter 841 was taken from her mother and released back to the ocean.
otter 723 was fed by people, a glimmer of hope that maybe these cohabitants (us) are nothing to fear, maybe we can share. and now we have otter 841, exhibiting the same behaviour, the same curiosity towards humans. something something intergenerational trauma something something the body never forgets. it's true that every creature should fear us, we’ve given them many reasons to, and the plan to capture otter 841 is more proof of the ways we control and dominate our non-human counterparts, even in the waters.
otter 841's atypical behaviour has been immediately problematized due to its difference. people of the internet wonder: is she sick? will her behaviour escalate? should we have a healthy fear of otters? so she becomes a “public safety risk”. surfer comfort is at risk. if otter 841 keeps stealing and chewing surfboards, what will we do? idk!!! maybe your surfboard should be harder to chew!!!
make her an AMBASSADOR? she's literally on the run, refusing capture. i strongly doubt she wants to be “rehomed” and be made an ambassador (sounds severely fake). she's been in captivity, she was born there, and she doesn't want to go back. she wants to steal and chew surfboards. eat crabs and clams. float. engage in typical and maybe even ATYPICAL otter activities.
some people have chosen now to point out that otters aren't the lovely_caring_creatures we imagine, juggling rocks or reclining hand-in-hand. a 2019 article titled "the case against otters: necrophiliac, serial-killing fur monsters of the sea" is making its rounds again. maybe to justify the capture of otter 841. maybe to say: otters - they're just like us!
otter 841 is being punished for her curiosity, and ultimately her hunger. though humans love an otter appearance, a chance to take a picture, there's a line that isn't to be crossed - the line of human comfort. yes yes, the sea otter lives in the sea, but we need to take her out now because something that humans instigated is now working against humans. she doesn’t want to take a selfie she wants to eat my surfboard! rather than humans facing the consequences of their actions, animals do.
so they're trying to capture otter 841. institutionalise otter 841 so she acts more like a typical otter, or even if she doesn't, it doesn't matter because she’ll live in captivity, where she can be an ambassador, for all otters who were once bad but can now be good, behind glass. maybe she never had a chance, being born to otter 723, maybe otters inherit pain & suffering too.
how many otters does it take to steal a surfboard? one
knock knock! who’s there? otter! otter who? otter 841 give me your fucking surfboard or else!!!
i am not a marine biologist. i am not a california sea otter (who are endangered btw). i love science but also have a healthy distrust towards scientists, especially those representing institutions. my thoughts on otter 841 are based on a deep love for all animals, us included, and some great resources and minds concerned with human-animal relations. when i use “we” or “humans” generally, i do so with the knowledge that many people in many places are not historically or presently culpable for perpetuating the human-animal difference and the iterations of violence and domination that comes with it, so do please consider this too.
it seems like we want to know otter 841 better than she could know herself. here's what the otter is feeling, here's what's wrong with the otter, this would be safer for the otter, we need to apprehend the otter so she and we and the sea and the surfboards can be safe. so what i don’t want to do here is act like i know more about any of this, or know what otter 841 is thinking (i surely do not). but what i do want is to open this train of thought that resists the human desire to know the most or be right, and to consider that a lot of what we know and think about animals is intentionally constructed to place them beneath us.
otters don't owe us anything, they don't owe us a healthy fear of humans, or space to surf their waters. we're unprepared to have the conversation where we consider animal agency and peace over our own comfort. where we consider ourselves, our species, as expert violators of everything and everyone. where we consider that we've already caused enough harm.
the hypotheticals that otter 841 may seriously harm or kill someone appear consistently in opposition to people advocating for leaving otter 841 to live and rest and steal in peace, in her rightful habitat. aren't we always taught that wildlife can harm us though? isn't this why we’re told to approach with caution, or not to approach at all? our desire for outdoor recreation is enveloped in the desire to dominate wild spaces, whether we like it or not. it requires the desire and even demand for undomesticated creatures to have a healthy fear of humans. why are we so okay with being feared?
hikers and the lot are always taught to stay on the trail: shake your keys and sing to alert bears of your presence, don't provoke, don’t feed wildlife - signs are everywhere along a typical nature trail. we are known to emphasize the border between wild (non-human) and domestic (human), and we are also emphasizing the exaggerated difference between human and animal. i say exaggerated because, as it goes, we've put ourselves at the top of the food chain, but without weapons we are absolutely not - so this difference we’ve invented is based on our weaponry and our willingness to be violent for power.
the open waters are a bit more difficult to domesticate though, we can't really carve out trails past where sand meets water. in the water, without a vessel apart from our own bodies, we're at a disadvantage. none of us can swim better or half as good as otters or other marine mammals. a circumstance for human egos to be shaken up a little. but still, we find ways to take it too far, this time by literally attempting to abduct a living creature.
people are, rightfully, often suspicious of animal rights activists and the like, for focusing on animal rights when we can barely be decent to each other, and when oppression is usual and profitable. but those issues aren't separate the way we've made them to be - our project of ensuring animals stay lesser than, is intertwined with the way we value and devalue different groups of humans. our inability to decenter human expansion and to treat our cohabitants with respect and agency feeds directly into how we treat each other. it's possible that opening our minds to destabilizing where we've purposefully placed animals in our society, would destabilize a whole lot more. it's possible to free ourselves and free non-human animals, too. getting into this through the lens of disability justice, beasts of burden by sunaura taylor is a telling read, carefully revealing the intersections of disability and animal liberation.
i think otter 841 isn't a bad place to start, with her celebrity status, to set a precedent of leaving animals the fuck alone.
a surfer-otter alliance. surfers of santa cruz all step into the sea together, boards tucked under armpits, and on the count of 3, they release the boards to otter 841 in unison. have our boards. we're sorry.