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Otter 501 Community Screening Challenge


September 25, 2012

Otter 501 is more than just a number, she's protecting the ocean. Bring this inspiring, award-winning film to 25 community groups.  See more



Our Story

Sea Studios Foundation has been known for making innovative media that raises environmental literacy and inspires action for over 25 years. You can read more about our past achievements in our bio, but this story is really about the future. The future of one otter, her species, natural history storytelling, and the health of our ocean. We created the film Otter 501 as a tool to engage new audiences in the fight to save a species and protect the oceans. Now we need your help showing it to as many diverse groups of people as possible.



Otter 501

Otter 501 is a beautiful film, completed in May 2012, that reinvents a genre. It has been well-recieved in theaters, at festivals around the nation, at zoos and aquariums, and in select schools and communities. Some theaters have even asked the film to come back for a second time! Otter 501 was awarded "Best Theatrical Film"  by the prestigious International Wildlife Film Festival. 

We could have made a film that simply shows how amazing these animals are - there's plenty of material to choose from. Sea otters are smart, cute, and a critical part of the ecosystems they live in. But they're more than that. In fact, Otter 501, our film's leading lady, represents the very real perils the sea otter population faces and the role that humans play in this species' survival. We chose to tell a story that illustrated how every one of us affects the survival of one of the world's most lovable creatures.

Photo credit Jim CapwellPhoto credit Jim Capwell


To tell this story we had to step out of the traditional boundaries of natural history storytelling. We followed Otter 501's life, documenting the scientists and caretakers who saved her life after she was separated from her mother. We introduced a relatable human storyteller who is part of the action and tells the story using modern tools - social media, web videos. And that story has continued off-screen. You can read more about the impact Otter 501's story has had through social media in this recently published Huffington Post article:

"Otter 501 might be little, but she's no tramp, she's a fighter and a survivor, and above all else, she is a symbol of hope for the next generation of marine conservationists and ocean advocates." - Cute, Clever, Connected: Otter 501 Movie is Redefining "Revolutionary"

Our innovative approach reaches new audiences of young people like no other natural history film can. It is an ideal starting point for folks whose main connection to nature may be through 30 second internet videos.

"My sixth graders were mesmerized.... They are ready to take action to help otters and other sea mammals!" - Robin, Middle School Teacher in Palo Alto, CA

"I found out about how harmful pesticides are for otters. We had a green lawn (that) needed lots of pesticides. So we changed and don't have a green lawn anymore, just native plants and NO PESTICIDES ever used in our house!" - Otter 501 Facebook Fan Jurate

(right top photo credit Arlene Burns)(right top photo credit Arlene Burns)


Our Goal

Our film is done. It has won awards and proven that our new style of storytelling reaches a new audience and inspires them to take action to protect sea otters and the ocean.

But we need your help to show it to folks who otherwise wouldn't have access. People who may not be able to afford a ticket to the theater or a trip to their local Aquarium. Kids who have never had their feet in the ocean or seen the wild animals who live there. This film may be the most intimate experience with the ocean they have ever had and that is step number one towards keeping the ocean safe for sea otters. But, if we don't reach our goal, we don't get any of the money and will not be able to afford the staff time and resources to reach out to these groups.

This Kickstarter project will raise enough money for us to screen Otter 501 with at least 25 new community groups. 

Screenings average around 60 people. That's 1,500 new ocean advocates who will spread the word about protecting the ocean after seeing this film. If we exceed our goal we will be able to share the film with even more people. 

Thank you for contributing to our Kickstarter campaign to share Otter 501 with over a thousand new people. We hope you'll join our community of engaged sea otter and ocean advocates on FacebookTwitterYouTube, andPinterest and join us when our brand new webStory about Otter 501 comes out!

Sea Studios Foundation, the makers of Otter 501

Otter 501 in the wild (photo credit: Ron Eby)Otter 501 in the wild (photo credit: Ron Eby)


More About the Film Otter 501

A storm grows, a sea otter pup is separated from her mother, and a young woman bound for adventure blows in to town.  On a wild, windswept beach these lives collide and an entire species’ survival gets personal.  Through Katie’s eyes you will see our playful pup, otter number 501, get an amazing second chance at life in the wild.  As the two learn to navigate the opportunities and risks of life without anchor we see the incredible efforts people have undertaken to return sea otters from the brink of existence.  Framed against the strikingly beautiful Monterey Bay coastline, the last stronghold of these iconic animals, Katie discovers just how serious this threat remains.  Their adventure, unexpected as it was, illustrates what we can do to contribute to the growing movement to protect the southern sea otter…and ourselves.

Combining documentary and dramatic narrative techniques, OTTER 501 chronicles the remarkable true story of an orphaned baby otter who was washed ashore on the Northern California coast when she was less than a week old. Quickly rescued by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation Program, “501,” as she was called, became part of a groundbreaking surrogate program where she was introduced to an adoptive sea otter mother who reared her for months so she could develop the necessary skills to survive in the wild. 

Blending original footage and the tools of social media, OTTER 501 is a unique hybrid of fact and fiction that takes the traditional wildlife documentary into new and exciting storytelling realms. Parallel to this remarkable tale of how 501 got a second chance at life is the story of young Katie, an aspiring marine biologist who volunteered at the Aquarium and participated in 501’s rescue and training. Structured as a series of Facebook video posts by Katie, 501’s amazing story is told from Katie’s point of view, as she herself comes of age emotionally, intellectually, and professionally, courtesy of this baby otter.   Both inspiring and illuminating, the film sheds light on important issues about our ever-changing environment and the ways in which we affect—and are affected by—other species. The latest project from the award-winning and acclaimed filmmaking team at Sea Studios Foundation, OTTER 501 was executive produced by Mark Shelley, who also photographed the film, and Clint Jones, was directed by Bob Talbot, written and produced by Josh Rosen and will be released by Paladin.

Teachers Take Note!

We love teachers! So we have a special offer on Kickstarter just for you. Raise $300 as a group and your class or youth group will receive a screening of Otter 501 plus a full suite of Sea Studios' DVDs for your school or organization's library. In order to back as a group, raise the funds collectively and have one person create an account with Kickstarter to back our project. As the backer, please select the $300 "Classroom and Youth Group Special" and designate your name with the school, class, or organization you represent. Contact us with more questions or if this is cost prohibitive - you might be eligible to receive a free screening!

More Press

“Heart-warming! A clever animal mystery.” Monterey County Weekly

“Easily one of the cutest creatures to inhabit Planet Earth! Beautiful, compelling.” Santa Barbara Independent

“Stirring. A must-see movie!” Scientific American

“A pleasure to watch!” Huffington Post


What's next for Sea Studios?

We are just getting ready to launch our new immersive multi-media WebStory about Otter 501. Join us on Facebook for updates!

What is the money needed for?

Good question - the majority of the funding will go towards the cost of providing a screening ($300/screening). This involves staff time and a rental fee. The remaining funds will be used to pay for the cost of the rewards, Kickstarter's fees, and and our time in fundraising. If you'd like more information about our budget we are happy to share our detailed accounting spreadsheet. Remember - if we don't get all of the money we don't get any of it. But, if we exceed our goal we will be able to do even more screenings!

How can I buy a DVD or book a screening of Otter 501 on my own?

Visit and you can find more information on how to book a screening or buy the DVD.



We have estimated and budgeted for the amount of time it will take on our end for us to book these screenings with community groups. However, the main risk to this project's success is having enough time to book all of the screenings once the funds are raised because sometimes those groups are not able to fit in a screening in the very near future and must wait months to fit time to show the film in to their schedule. We have prepared for this challenge by reaching out to organizations who want to show the film NOW and as soon as the project is funded we can reach out to them with the availability of these screenings. So, even if there are challenges in booking screenings with new interested organizations we will be able to reach out to groups who have already expressed an interest.



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