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Man Says He Thought He Would Die in Otter Attack

He was bitten at least a dozen times while swimming in northern California lake
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 7, 2023 5:20 PM CST
California Man Injured in 'Terrifying' Otter Attack
Stock photo of a North American river otter.   (Getty Images/cordimages)

California man Matt Leffers says it was "by far the most terrifying experience" of his life —and it happened in waters he's been swimming in for 30 years.The 69-year-old San Francisco resident tells USA Today that he was attacked by a pair of aggressive otters while swimming at his family's cabin in Serene Lakes, near Lake Tahoe, on Sept. 2. Leffers says he had almost made it back to shore when he was bitten multiple times. He says he tried to get away but two otters kept "popping up" and cutting him off. He says trying to scare off didn't work, and trying to float away to seem "uninteresting" just resulted in more bites. Screaming, however, brought help.

"I thought I was going to die," Leffers says. "But my wife came flying out on a paddleboard in between me and one of the otters. I jumped on top of her on the paddleboard and she paddled us in." He says he was bitten at least 12 times and had 40 to 50 puncture wounds. He also needed eight stitches where one of the otters had ripped his arm open. Leffers says another person was bitten in the lake earlier in the summer and the response from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has been "wimpy," NBC News reports. The agency said otters were probably attracted to fish stocks in the lake and recommended that stocking be reduced and restricted to non-swimming areas.

Leffers says he wants to "make sure some kid doesn't get killed this spring or summer when the lakes are busy. California DFW spokesperson Peter Tira tells USA Today the attacks are being investigated. He says otter attacks on human are rare, but they are wild animals, "unpredictable and territorial," and they sometimes attack when they feel threatened. "They look very cute but they are related to wolverines and badgers and have very sharp claws and sharp teeth," Tira says. "We advise people if they see river otters not to go swimming or leave their dogs off-leash. Enjoy them from afar." (In August, three women in Montana were injured in an otter attack.)

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