- If you see an otter coming towards you… Run. Run fast.
But Anchorage, Alaska, has found out that behind the heartwarming façade lies a vicious beast. Officials have told locals not to approach rivers and ponds due to otter attacks.
Indeed, otters have joined turkeys in the club of animals you wouldn’t think are dangerous, but can kick your butt. Just in the past month, river otters have attacked on three different occasions.
“[We urge] Anchorage residents to be alert around local lakes and rivers, where a group of river otters recently attacked people and their pets,” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) said.
“River otter attacks in Anchorage, while rare, have been reported over the last several years. … Because of the risk to public safety, efforts will be made to locate this group of river otters and remove them,” the ADFG added.
Fangs and Claws
The first attack last month happened on September 1. A group of four otters chased down and bit a 9-year-old boy who was on a bike ride with his brother and two friends.
The boys noticed some otters at a duck pond and stopped to watch the animals. As they took photos and videos with a smartphone, one of the otters started approaching the children.
“That’s when they all started running. One caught up to my 9-year-old and he got attacked,” Tiffany Fernandez, the attacked boy’s mother, told Anchorage Daily News.
Fernandez said that the attacking otter caught up to her son, causing him to trip and fall. Seeing its chance, the otter pounced on the boy.
“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,” explained Fernandez.
“It’s pretty traumatizing for both my boys. One of them got attacked and the other one felt guilty that he couldn’t help his brother,” she added.
The next two attacks happened on the same day in late September, according to the ADFG. In the first incident, the otters bit a woman who was trying to rescue her dog from them.
In the second, which happened near the same lake as the first one, an otter attacked another dog. The spot seems to be a hotbed of otter attacks, since Huffington Post reported that in 2019, otters bit yet another dog at the same lake.
The potentially most brutal otter attack happened in October 2019 at a different lake. A group of otters pulled a 50-pound husky into the water and probably would’ve drowned it if the owner hadn’t rescued the pooch.
One Barrel of Bad Apples
The ADFG said they don’t know the exact composition of the otter gang that’s attacking people. However, they suspect that all the attacks were due to the same group.
“River otters may travel long distances over land or by utilizing interconnected waterways, and it is possible that the same group of river otters were responsible for the attacks at both locations,” the ADFG said.
Dave Battle, an ADFG area wildlife biologist, said the general rarity of otter attacks supports the theory of one aggressive group.
“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,” he said.
“It would be unlikely that multiple groups in the same city would suddenly start exhibiting the same type of behavior.”
According to Battle, it’s probable that a single otter group has either stayed together or comes together regularly in Anchorage. Otter groups usually consist of a mother and young bachelor males, but here the animals’ aggressiveness hints at a gang consisting solely of young adults.
As to why the otters are behaving so bizarrely, Battle can only make educated guesses. Considering that the otters have mostly attacked dogs, he believes they may have had a negative experience with a dog.
“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,” Battle said.
“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.”
The ADFG intends to capture and remove the otters from Anchorage to deter further attacks. However, just moving them elsewhere likely won’t solve the problem, the agency said.
“Due to their aggressive behavior toward people and pets, it is likely they would continue those actions in any new environment, making relocation problematic as it would simply move the dangerous behavior to another location,” the ADFG said.
We’re sorry, animal lovers, but in this case it’s likely that “remove” actually means “euthanize.”
“Any animals lethally removed will be tested for rabies due to their unusually aggressive behavior,” said the ADFG.
However, the agency emphasized that they will take care to only target “animals exhibiting these unusual behaviors.” River otters live in many parts of Anchorage and removing the aggressive group won’t eradicate their entire population.
Not all otters in Anchorage have gone psycho. Hopefully people can soon get back to watching cute, non-aggressive otters in peace.