A swimmer in northern California had a harrowing encounter with otters that left him with approximately 40 puncture wounds. Matt Leffers, who has been swimming at Serene Lakes in Placer County, located about 90 miles northeast of Sacramento, for three decades, described the terrifying otter attack that he endured on September 3.
Leffers recounted being bitten at least 12 times, with the attack occurring suddenly while he was in the lake. Leffers stated: “I started swimming fast, but there was the otter, popped up right in front of me, and then I was bit again,” he said, adding, “These things were so aggressive that, literally, I felt like they wanted to kill me.”
His wife had to rescue him using a paddleboat before rushing him to the hospital. Photographs shared from his hospital visit showed his leg badly cut and covered in blood, leaving lasting scars.
This wasn’t an isolated incident, as the California Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed a previous otter attack at Serene Lakes in July. Leffers called for more action to address this issue, stating, “I think the fact that I’m the second person attacked here this summer, it’s a big red flag.”
Peter Tira, a spokesperson for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, acknowledged that otter attacks on humans are rare, but otters are a predator species with sharp teeth. He explained that otters typically won’t attack people or larger animals, but they may defend their territory if they perceive a threat.
One theory is that the otters are attracted to the lake due to its abundant fish population, potentially making them more territorial and aggressive. A letter dated September 21 from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to the Serene Lakes community suggested that the lake’s fish abundance might be a contributing factor to the otter’s presence and behavior.
Leffers criticized the department’s response, calling it “wimpy” and urged them to take action before a more serious incident occurs. The letter mentioned that state wildlife officials were working to determine the number of otters at Serene Lakes and would develop a strategy once they had more information.
While otter attacks on humans are relatively rare, they have been reported in various parts of the United States, including a recent case of a rabid otter biting a man and a dog in Florida, and an incident in Montana where three women were injured by an otter while floating on a river.
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In July, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife reported an aggressive sea otter near Santa Cruz, stating their intention to capture the otter and place it in a zoo or aquarium.