Three women injured in an otter attack on Montana River, requiring airlift

An otter attacked three women on Wednesday who were floating on the Jefferson River in Montana. Officials believe the incident was a defensive attack and have posted warning signs.

An otter attacked three women who were floating on inner tubes on a Montana river Wednesday night. 

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks said that the women were about three miles upstream from Sappington Bridge on the Jefferson River at about 8:15 p.m. local time when they observed one or two otters. 

An otter approached the group and attacked them. 

The women got out of the water, and the otter swam away. 

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The Jefferson River in Montana

This October 2022, image provided by the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, shows the Jefferson River at the Limespur Fishing Access Site near Cardwell, Montana. A rare river otter attack along a nearby stretch of the river on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023 left three women injured. (Morgan Jacobsen/Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks via AP)

The women called 911 and Montana Highway Patrol, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Jefferson Valley Ambulance, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Life Flight and a local landowner all responded to the scene. 

All three women were injured in the encounter and received medical treatment in Bozeman. 

One woman, who sustained more serious injuries to her face and arms, was flown to the hospital in a helicopter. Her condition on Thursday was unknown.

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks staff have since posted signs at several fishing access sites in the area. The signs warn recreationists of otter activity. 

“No further management action is planned at this time,” the agency said. 

Montana riverbed

This October 2022 image provided by the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, shows the Jefferson River at Sappington Bridge near Cardwell, Montana. A rare river otter attack along a nearby stretch of the river on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023 left three women injured. (Morgan Jacobsen/Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks via AP)

Jefferson County Undersheriff James Everett told The Associated Press the incident is believed to have been a defensive attack.

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While otter attacks are rare, they can be protective of themselves and their young – especially at close distances. 

They can be seen with their young in the water during the summer after giving birth in April. 

They may also be protective of food resources, especially when those resources are scarce. 

Recreationists are advised to keep a wide distance from all wildlife. Notably, in drought conditions, low water levels can bring people closer to water-dwelling wildlife.

North American River Otter

An adult North American River Otter looks over drift wood on a Montana river bank on Oct. 13, 2018. (Avalon/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

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“Being aware and keeping your distance can help avoid dangerous encounters, reduce stress for wildlife and promote healthy animal behavior,” it said. “If you are attacked by an otter, fight back, get away and out of the water, and seek medical attention.”

Last month in California, a sea otter known as “841” gained widespread attention for wrestling surfboards from surfers off the coast of Santa Cruz.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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