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Otters bite Polson boy

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BIGFORK — Otters are cute and cuddly to look at, but they’re very protective of their pups as Zack Whipple, 9, found out on Aug. 4. 

Zach was on the dock at Lake of the Woods near Echo Lake east of Kalispell, his mother Kelly Ware said, and heard splashing underneath. Thinking it was just fish jumping, Zach cannon-balled into the water. Two otters came out to where the boy was swimming, leaving their pup under the dock, and swam in a circle around him. Then they dove down and started biting Zach’s foot and leg. 

Zach didn’t want to go back to the dock so he swam to the reeds and crawled out. The Whipple family dog barked at the otters, yet they didn’t leave the water, Ware said.

Zach didn’t need stitches, Ware said, but he did receive a tetanus shot and is on antibiotics.

“He’s definitely going to be nervous about what might be under the dock,” Ware said. 

Zach said he wants revenge — he wants an otter hide. 

Gael Bissell, wildlife biologist with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said otters will defend their pups and that’s what happened in Zach’s case — he got between the adult otters and the pups.

Pups are usually born in April and are weaned and out learning to swim and hunt in June, July and August.  

Members of the weasel family, otters are predators and eat all aquatic foods, crayfish, waterfowl and even baby muskrats.

“Otters like places with cover,” Bissell said, “such as log jams or where there’s beaver activity.” 

Otters will take over a beaver dam or a large muskrat den, but Bissell said they like to remain along the shore, in quiet ponds and small lakes, and under cover for dens. They also return to the same place year after year to den.

There’s something about the Echo Lake area otters like, Bissell said, whether it’s just the fish or because it’s quiet and there are slough areas.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has done telemetry work with otters, and otters cover lots of territory. One male otter traveled from the lower Flathead River to the inlet on Swan Lake. Routinely, otters swim from Flathead River to Ashley Lake for crawdads.     

Good advice with otters, Bissell said, is to enjoy watching them, but this time of year use common sense and don’t swim close to them.

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