The boy was swimming in the Pilchuck River with his grandmother around 11 a.m. when the otter attacked, said Capt. Alan Myers with the state Department of Fish & Wildlife. When the grandmother attempted to fend off the otter, the animal attacked her, as well.
Based on initial reports, the boy likely needs stitches and his grandmother has a severe eye injury, Myers said.
Names, ages and current conditions of the boy and grandmother were not immediately available.
The otter had not been caught as of Thursday evening. A trapper was unable to locate a den in the area where the attack happened.
If caught, the otter may be euthanized or relocated, Myers said. Officials are waiting to hear from doctors about whether a rabies test is needed.
“When an animal has attacked a human, it becomes hard to justify setting it free again,” Myers said.
Ruth Milner, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Fish & Wildlife, said this is the first time she’s dealt with an otter attack in Snohomish or Island counties. However, she’s heard of them elsewhere in the state and country.
“Otter attacks are uncommon, but they have happened,” Milner said. “They’re not normally perceived as dangerous animals, but any animal can be aggressive in the wrong circumstances.”
River otters are not particularly common in the area, Milner said. The state does not have detailed population information.
River otters are muscular and can weigh up to 30 pounds. They are armed with sharp canines and claws. They have large home territories and may travel miles along a river for food and shelter.
They are carnivorous and related to wolverines, mink and weasels.
“I can’t begin to go into the mind of this animal and tell you why it did what it did,” she said. “It could have felt threatened by the human activity in the area. Normally otters are fairly calm around people. They hang around boat docks and that sort of thing.”
She said her best advice for people around any wild animal is to back away slowly. Never attempt to approach or touch the creature.
“Animals have a fear mechanism and when it’s triggered they can become unpredictable,” Milner said.
The Department of Fish & Wildlife recommends observing river otters from a distance, preferably a bridge or pier above a known eating area. People should not attempt to interact with an otter, and mother otters can be especially aggressive, according to the state.
Milner said it is unclear if the otter involved in Thursday’s attack was a mother. With no den nearby, she said it’s possible, but unlikely.
Signs are being posted around Lake Connor Park and along the river where the attack happened, Myers said. They warn people to use caution or stay away.
“We’re doing our best to keep people out of there and keep them safe,” he said. “We will remain aggressive to try and locate this animal and make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439, firstname.lastname@example.org
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