Democracy Dies in Darkness


The otter seemed ‘cute’ — until it leaped on her kayak and lunged at her face

March 8, 2018 at 5:28 PM

A young oriental small-clawed otter eats a meatball in 2015 in a zoo in Dresden, Germany. (Arno Burgi/AFP/Getty Images)

Sue Spector was kayaking with her husband down the pristine Braden River in western Florida when she spotted an otter.

Spector, 77, from Sarasota, turned around in her boat early Sunday morning and, catching a glimpse of the small river dweller, thought to herself, “Oh, this is a cute otter,” she told the Tampa Bay Times.

The animal, usually known for its curiosity and playful demeanor, leaped onto the kayak and lunged at Spector.

“Then we had this little tug of war,” she told the Tampa Bay Times. “I tried to get him off of my kayak, and I screamed extremely loud so I could try and scare him off, but that didn’t work. It took some time, but I fought with him, my husband jumped in, and other people came by to help.”

The kayak rolled.

The couple was thrown into the water — half-swimming, half-flailing their paddles to try to fend off the animal.

“I took my paddle, and I tried to get him off of me, and he wouldn’t let go, and I kept screaming, I kept beating him with a paddle,” Spector told Fox affiliate WTVT. “When you’re [in the middle of] it you don’t have a lot of thought except you hope you survive.”

Spector and her husband climbed on their guide’s kayak and began paddling “as fast as we could,” she told the Times. “The otter followed us but didn’t attack again.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in a statement earlier this week that the agency’s law enforcement officers were searching for an “aggressive otter” after four kayakers were injured in separate attacks Saturday and Sunday on the Braden River in Manatee County. The FWC warned that those who are bitten or scratched by wild animals should seek medical attention because they can carry rabies, a potentially deadly virus that attacks the central nervous system.

Spector could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Rabies causes an acute infection of the central nervous system, which can be fatal if untreated. (Elyse Samuels, Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

Related: [An ‘unusually aggressive’ Brooklyn squirrel that attacked five people may have rabies]

Nicole Duplaix, who chairs the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Otter Specialist Group, said otters are known for being friendly animals, but, like most other creatures, keep their distance from humans.

She said that otter attacks involving humans are “extremely rare,” but that when they do occur, there is usually a reason.

“An unprovoked attack is very un-otter-like, unless there’s a cause you can’t see,” Duplaix, who teaches conservation biology at Oregon State University, said Thursday in a phone interview with The Washington Post.

She said that in instances in which otters have attacked, people had gotten too close to mothers with cubs or to their dens.

There are 13 species of otters around the world, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System. In the United States, there are sea otters and the North American river otters, or Canadian otters.

River otters, which weigh between 10 and 33 pounds, have long slender bodies, short legs and webbed toes, according to a fact sheet from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

The creatures, which often share aquatic habitats with beavers, enjoy “unpolluted water with a minimal human disturbance,” according to the National Zoo:

Lindsey Bever is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post, covering national news with an emphasis on health. She was previously a reporter at the Dallas Morning News.

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