This has been a banner year for animals who have caught the public’s attention due to their size or beauty: the Big Cow, the Fat Bear, the Hot Duck. Perhaps that’s why the Monterey Bay Aquarium was extra enthusiastic when describing a photo they posted of Abby, a resident sea otter, on Tuesday. “Abby is a thicc girl. What an absolute unit. She c h o n k. Look at the size of this lady,” they wrote. “OH LAWD SHE COMIN.” Abby did indeed look robust and magnificent.
The tweet went viral, as it was intended to, though it was also met with criticism. As a result, the aquarium then posted a lengthy thread on Wednesday evening, apologizing for their original message. What follows is one of the most memorable apologies since the great Bisexual Taco-gate of 2016. “Hey everyone. It has come to our attention that some of the references in this tweet are problematic and insensitive,” it began. “We’re posting here in the thread so that people who have engaged with this tweet will join us in our learning moment.”
“If you follow our feed, we often reference popular memes to talk about the ocean. In this case, the memes used had connotations we were unaware of until now,” it continued. “In particular, several terms referenced originated from African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and specifically reference Black women’s bodies. Using them in a sea otter meme without that background makes insinuations we never intended. We need to do better.”
The responses to the apology ranged from people who thanked the aquarium to others who believed that they should’ve never caved to the outrage.
There’s another twist to the story: Christine DeAngelo, the mammal curator for the aquarium, told the Los Angeles Times that Abby — who’s 11 years old and weighs 46 pounds — isn’t actually exceptionally large. “That’s not blubber or anything,” she explained. “It’s just the angle of her hips and the way she’s rolled. She’s one of our most photogenic animals.”
Regardless of how you feel about Abby the otter, the aquarium’s original tweet, or their apology, I have one brilliant suggestion for how this could’ve all been avoided.