Wildlife

River otter attacks 9-year-old boy at East Anchorage pond

Tiffany Fernandez’s 9-year-old son was attacked by a river otter last week when he, his older brother and two other friends went on a bicycle ride in their East Anchorage neighborhood.

“Around 7 p.m. my oldest son called me, and I thought he was joking when he said, ‘Mom, Ayden got bit by an otter,’ ” Fernandez said. “And I said, ‘What do you mean, an otter?’ "

Her 13-year-old FaceTimed her to show Fernandez the injuries, and she drove to the duck pond on Carriage Drive, off Dowling Road in East Anchorage, where the attack took place Wednesday.

“It’s a pond. I wasn’t aware of river otters, my kids weren’t aware of river otters, so they stopped. They wanted to watch,” she said.

Fernandez said her older son pulled out his phone and took a video, then one of the four otters strayed away from the pack and came toward the children.

“That’s when they all started running. One caught up to my 9-year-old and he got attacked,” Fernandez said. “It’s pretty traumatizing for both my boys. One of them got attacked and the other one felt guilty that he couldn’t help his brother.”

The otter caught up to her son, who then fell, Fernandez said.

“He has two fang marks on his back thigh, and one on the front thigh on each leg,” she said. “(He has) one puncture wound on his foot. He ended up falling as he was running away and (the otter) got him on his back.”

Fernandez took her son to the emergency room, where he received a rabies shot and booster. There’s no way to know whether or not the animal was rabid, said Dave Battle, area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

There have been a few incidents around town involving river otters and dogs over the last couple years — but only “every once in a while,” and nothing Battle can recall involving humans.

“The fact that an otter attacked a person was certainly surprising,” Battle said.

There were four otters in the group, Battle said: That group size is made up of bachelor otters or a female with her young, though it’s hard to say which type of group the boys were watching.

All the attacks Battle is aware of — the incident that left Fernandez’s son injured, as well as others with dogs — have involved groups of four to five otters, he said.

“We don’t know whether that’s always been the same group,” Battle said. “Logically, I would think that it probably is, because it’s such unusual behavior. It would be unlikely that multiple groups in the same city would suddenly start exhibiting the same type of behavior.”

It’s hard to know what the motivation behind the attack was, Battle said, whether the otters felt threatened or just more aggressive.

“It could have been that the otters felt threatened, but it doesn’t appear to me these kids did anything wrong,” Battle said. “I think they were keeping a respectful distance, they were just watching the otters from a distance, and for some reason the otter ran up and just wanted to chase this kid down.”

Fernandez said she has taught her boys not to mess with wildlife. She posted about the attack on the app Nextdoor to let others know about the otters.

“I see little kids playing around there, and I’m just terrified that it will happen to someone else,” Fernandez said.

If people see a group of otters in Anchorage, Battle encourages them to call Fish and Game — especially if the animals are focusing on dogs or young children.

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