Otter suspected of attacks on Pilchuck River is killed

LAKE STEVENS — The river otter suspected of seriously injuring an 8-year-old boy and his grandmother on the Pilchuck River in July has been killed.

A large male otter was tracked down and shot* Sunday afternoon near Lake Connor Park in Lake Stevens.

The state Department of Fish &Wildlife reported last week that a mother otter with pups might have been behind a July 31 attack that sent two people to the hospital. However, trappers shifted their focus after spotting a 4-foot-long male otter that appeared to be migrating through the area, said Capt. Alan Myers.

Dogs were used to “haze” any otters from the area, he said. Their presence and barking were meant to scare otters away from the Pilchuck River near Lake Connor Park, a private park near where the attack happened.

Three mother otters and their pups were spotted in the area, and all seem to have relocated after the dogs went through, Myers said.

Rather than leaving, the male otter responded aggressively to the dogs and was shot after multiple attempts at trapping him failed.

“We have determined this is the otter responsible for the attack” based on his aggressive behavior, Myers said. “He was euthanized at the scene, quickly and quietly.”

The results of a necropsy are pending and should help determine whether the animal had an illness or injury that might have caused hyperaggressive behavior, Myers said.

Otter attacks are rare, but the July attack was vicious.

Bryce Moser was playing on a rope swing when family members say he was pulled into the river by an otter. He was badly cut and bruised in the attack.

When Roxane Leilani Grove rushed into the river to pull her grandson away from the otter, the animal attacked her. One of her eyes was damaged, and she has undergone multiple surgeries, brother-in-law Dean Springer said.

Though river otters are common in Western Washington, wildlife experts say they tend to avoid humans.

Traci Belting works with river otters at the Seattle Aquarium as the curator of mammals and birds. She described them as fast-moving, flexible and agile creatures that can climb and swim. They’re clever, mischievous and opportunistic, she said.

“There are river otters everywhere, and people may never see them because they can be pretty elusive,” Belting said.

Otters are carnivores, and their relatives include weasels and wolverines. Their family unit consists of a mother otter and pups, which usually stay together for about a year or until the mom gives birth to a new litter. There’s a strong bond between the mother and pups in that first year, Belting said.

A mother defending her pups is one explanation for an otter attack. The other is a male otter defending what it perceives as its territory, said Jennifer Pramuk. She’s the curator who oversees the river otter exhibit, among other animal habitats, at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.

“When you have a growing human population in areas that are fairly wild — whenever people and wildlife interact — you’re going to have risks like that,” she said.

River otters have large territories and can travel miles up and down rivers. However, Belting and Pramuk agree it is unlikely otters would return to the area after they’ve relocated.

Myers said officials do not plan to continue searching or trapping on the Pilchuck River because they are confident the male otter was behind the attack. He urged people to continue to be cautious around wildlife. Any animal can be dangerous in the wrong circumstances.

The family of Bryce Moser and Roxane Leilani Grove has started a fundraiser to help cover medical expenses. People can donate online at http://bit.ly/1vmJZGC.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439, kbray@heraldnet.com.

* Correction, Aug. 12, 2014: This article originally incorrectly described how the otter was killed.

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