BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – A rare attack by a river otter in southern Montana injured three women floating on inner tubes and inflicted injuries severe enough that one victim had to be airlifted to a hospital, reports authorities announced Thursday.
The attack happened near the town of Cardwell on a remote stretch of the Jefferson River, a tributary of the Missouri River that is popular with anglers and recreational floaters.
At least one otter swam towards the adult females around 8:15 p.m. Wednesday and attacked them, said Morgan Jacobsen of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. The women were able to make it ashore, where one of them called 911, he said.
One woman’s injuries, to her face and arms, were so severe the helicopter was used to drag her out, Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff James Everett said. His condition Thursday was unknown. The others had injuries to their arms.
“It’s just not something you come across very often,” Everett said. “Bears do it, moose do it and sometimes a deer, but otters? It is not normal.
Jacobsen said one of the women had seen two otters before, but it was unclear how many were involved in the attack.
Northern river otters are part of the weasel family and can grow up to 20 pounds (9 kilograms) – as heavy as a small dog – and up to 47 inches long (1.2 meters). They mainly eat fish.
They can use their teeth to scratch and bite, Jacobsen said.
“If people are attacked by an otter, our recommended response is to fight back, move away and get out of the water,” he said.
Warning signs were posted at access points along the Jefferson River in the area of the attack.
No otters have been seen there since Wednesday and there will be no effort to catch or remove any of the animals as it appears to be a defensive attack, he said.
Two years ago, a 12-year-old boy on an inner tube was attacked but not seriously injured by an otter on Montana’s Big Hole River.
Last month in California, a sea otter in California drew widespread attention for aggressively fighting off surfers’ surfboards off Santa Cruz.
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