According to the Anchorage Daily News, on September 1st, a child was chased down and bitten by a group of otters near Lake Otis. Tiffany Fernandez thought her kids were playing a trick on her when they called her to report that one of them had been bitten by an otter.
The group of kids was fascinated by the sight of the otters, so they stopped to observe them. As the otters caught up to the boy, he fell, and the otters pounced.
“Around 7 p.m., my oldest son called me, and I thought he was joking when he said, ‘Mom, Ayden got bit by an otter. And I said, ‘What do you mean, an otter?
It’s a pond. I wasn’t aware of river otters, my kids weren’t aware of river otters, so they stopped. They wanted to watch.
That’s when they all started running. One caught up to my 9-year-old, and he got attacked.
It’s pretty traumatizing for both of my boys. One of them got attacked, and the other one felt guilty that he couldn’t help his brother.
He has two fang marks on his back thigh and one on the front thigh on each leg. He has one puncture wound on his foot. He ended up falling as he was running away, and the otter got him on his back.”
The boy was treated for rabies as a preventative measure.
Dave Battle, an area biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said there is no way of knowing if the animals are rabid or not without testing them.
He also said there had been instances of otters attacking dogs every once in a while, but this is the first time he recalls otters attacking humans.
“The fact that an otter attacked a person was certainly surprising.
We don’t know whether that’s always been the same group.
Logically, I would think that it probably is, because it’s such unusual behavior. It would be unlikely that multiple groups in the same city would suddenly start exhibiting the same type of behavior.
It could have been that the otters felt threatened, but it doesn’t appear to me these kids did anything wrong.
I think they were keeping a respectful distance, they were just watching the otters from a distance, and for some reason the otter ran up and just wanted to chase this kid down.”
More recently, another woman was bitten while attempting to rescue her dog from a conflict with some otters at a lake near the University of Alaska. That same day, otters reportedly attacked another dog in a different area of the same lake.
It’s not the first time that otters have attacked dogs in the area, according to LiveScience. Back in 2019, two dogs were attacked by otters while swimming and and pulled underwater.
The dog’s owner had to jump in the water to pull his pets to safety, but both dogs suffered bite wounds that required stitches.
“There always seem to have been four or five otters involved in all the incidents.
Considering the rarity of this behavior in otters and the fact that our first reported attack was in 2019, and it’s happened several times since then, this is very likely one group that has stayed together for a while or that comes together frequently over a period of time.
Most otters never display this strong a reaction to dogs or people. By and large, they are curious animals, but not typically aggressive toward people or dogs.
It’s possible there was some sort of incident involving a dog that led them down this path, after which the otters learned to take aggressive action against dogs, but it’s impossible to say.
Identifying the individuals involved will most likely be a matter of responding to sightings and evaluating behavior when we’re able to catch up to them — what their reaction is to the presence of people, dogs, etc.”
Because otters are known to travel long distances over land and move between interconnected waterways, state wildlife authorities encourage people to be alert around all lakes and rivers in the area.
Efforts are underway to locate the group of aggressive otters so they can be removed from the area. However, because the animals are acting so unusually, they would likely continue to exhibit aggressive behavior towards people and pets should they be relocated to another area, so the animals are likely to be euthanized if captured.
Protecting public safety by minimizing human-wildlife conflict is a major priority for the ADFG. Otters are present throughout the greater Anchorage area, and removing one group of aggressive otters will not negatively impact the otter population on a large scale.
According to a 2011 study by the Oceanographic Environmental Research Society, there have only been 39 wild attacks in the United States since 1875.
15 of those attacks took place in Florida. In the other 24 attacks, the animals responsible all tested positive for rabies. None of the attacks have been fatal, but in the most extreme instance, the victim of an otter attack needed almost 200 stitches.
Anyone who encounters otters in the Anchorage area is encouraged to report the sightings to the Fish and Game department so a further investigation can be conducted to determine if they’re the aggressive group responsible for recent attacks.