An evening float on the Jefferson River near Cardwell, Montana, turned into a medical emergency for three residents after an otter approached the group and attacked. All three women were injured in the encounter, and one required helicopter transport to a hospital in Bozeman for treatment.
The women were floating the river in inner tubes when the incident occurred around 8:15 p.m., Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks reports in a press release. There are mixed accounts of whether one or two otters were present, but it’s clear that just one otter attacked them. The floaters escaped the water as fast as possible and called 911 once they made it to shore. Montana Highway Patrol, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Jefferson Valley Ambulance, MFWP, Life Flight, and a local landowner all responded to the scene.
The woman who was life-flighted to the hospital received multiple, severe bites to her face and arms, Jefferson County Undersheriff James Everett told NBC Montana. The location of the incident was remote, which required responders to use a jet boat and a side-by-side to reach the victims. The two victims with less serious injuries were treated by responders and eventually went to the hospital in Bozeman, too.
“While attacks from otters are rare, otters can be protective of themselves and their young, especially at close distances,” MFWP wrote. “They give birth to their young in April and can later be seen with their young in the water during the summer. They may also be protective of food resources, especially when those resources are scarce.”
The entire Jefferson River has been under hoot owl restrictions, or early closure to fishing due to warm water temperatures and low flow rates, since July 19. It will stay that way until water temperatures stay below 70 degrees for three consecutive days and flow rates return to an adequate level. While these restrictions don’t limit floating or other river travel, they do paint a picture of stressed conditions for fish and wildlife.
Otters are just one of many charismatic wildlife species that are more dangerous than they look. One particularly aggressive female sea otter recently terrorized surfers off the coast of Santa Cruz, California. The otter approached multiple surfers and climbed onto their boards, even biting chunks out of them, before wildlife officials eventually captured her. River otters are much smaller than sea otters and have longer tails, but are equally as protective of food and offspring.
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