Fans of the show When Animals Attack admit to a guilty pleasure of seeing Mother Nature's finest trying to take on an erratic Homo Sapien, who usually winds up the loser in an altercation. Bears, boas, tigers... you name it, it's not unusual for those beasts to declare victory as they pose over the human casualty while the media captures the moment for posterity.
When it comes to those animal adversaries, though, you'd think otters would be further down the list in the danger category. Dispelling that notion however is Marsha Wikle, an avid kayaker who witnessed a brush with that ferocious mammal on March 4 while paddling in Manatee County's Braden River in Florida.
She was leading a contingent of fellow kayak enthusiasts when they came across the otter, which then tried to take down a woman and threatened to do the same to the rest of the group as they quickly paddled to shore. The woman suffered injuries that required medical attention, meaning they had to go back the same route to reach their launching point.
The otter was waiting for them. And when the group paddled to get past the animal, it luckily didn't attack that time. Still, it was a nerve-wracking experience for the group who took the woman to be checked for any rabid infections from the altercation. Another woman who jumped in to help fight off the otter during the initial contact also had to be treated, when the mammal's claws ripped through two layers of clothing and broke skin.
The otter caused a kayak to capsize when it jumped onto the boat, as its passenger tried to fight off the animal with a paddle while trying to get away. Luckily, that hapless kayaker didn't need to go to the hospital.
The rogue animal has been in similar clashes with humans, however. A day before and two miles away from the Wikle incident, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported a similar altercation. Two people suffered bites from an otter, which was apparently acting aggressively towards humans, even chasing boats on the river.
An FFWC spokesperson said that the organization is investigating the series of events and searching for the perpetrator, even though otter attacks are quite rare. In 2017, no otter attacks were reported. One academic suggested rabies was the primary motivator.
"Its behavior strongly suggests it was rabid," said Samantha Wisely, an associate professor at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. "Healthy otters would never attack people."