The encounter occurred in September at Serene Lakes in Placer County, just northwest of Lake Tahoe. Matt Leffers, who has gone swimming there for 30 years, left his family cabin for a dip.
The lake became anything but serene, however, when two otters “popped up” and tore into him.
“I felt something bite my calf,” Leffers told KCRA 3 on Thursday. “Within seconds, I was bit again. And then I started swimming fast but there was the otter, popped up right in front of me and then I was bit again.”
Leffers, who said he was bitten at least a dozen times by the carnivorous mammals, was reportedly rescued via paddleboat by his wife. She immediately transported Leffers to a local hospital, where doctors discovered around 40 puncture wounds on his body.
“These things were so aggressive that, literally, I felt like they wanted to kill me,” Leffers, who described the moment as a life-and-death situation, told the outlet. “It is by far the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had in my life. Nothing even comes close.”
River otters are carnivorous mammals that use their sharp teeth and claws to kill.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Peter Tira told KCRA that at least one other person was attacked by otters in the state this year.
Tira said local hunting grounds might explain the prevalence of otter attacks, and told KCRA that they’re “very fast” and “incredible swimmers” with “a lot of sharp teeth.” While they usually avoid humans or larger animals, Tira said “they will defend their territory.”
In August, “Succession” actor Crystal Finn, who was swimming in the Feather River in August — less than two hours away from Serene Lakes — was hospitalized for numerous bite wounds on her legs and buttocks.
While there have reportedly only been around 60 documented otter attacks worldwide since 1875, they can be severe. One woman tubing down the Jefferson River in Montana, for instance, was airlifted to a hospital this summer with slashes to her face and arms.
River otters can reportedly measure 47 inches and weigh up to 20 pounds, posing serious risk to swimmers trying to keep afloat. Morgan Jacobson of Montana Fish and Wildlife told the Associated Press that the agency’s “recommended response” is to “fight back, get away and get out of the water.”