As It Happens

'I screamed as loud as I could': Florida kayaker recovering after otter attack

A Florida kayaker suffered a torn earlobe, a gash on her nose and a bite on her hand when an otter attacked her while she was paddling on the Braden River, south of Tampa. WARNING: This story contains graphic images.
Susan Spector, 77, was attacked by an otter while kayaking on Florida's Branden River, south of Tampa. She suffered bites and scratches, and the animal also shredded her sunhat. (Submitted by Susan Spector)

WARNING: This story contains graphic images

A Florida kayaker suffered a torn earlobe, a gash on her nose and a bite on her hand when an otter attacked her while she was paddling on the Braden River, south of Tampa. 

Susan Spector, 77, also has scratches on her arms and head, but says it could have been worse had she not been wearing her life jacket and a hat.

"Luckily… I had the thick padding in the back. Because otherwise, I would have had a lot of back injuries too," she told As It Happens host Carol Off on Wednesday. 

You don't really think about the details of what's happening when you're fighting like that.— Susan Spector

On March 4, Spector was kayaking with nine other people. Another member of the group noticed the otter, but Spector says she didn't see it at first. 

The otter then swam up to her kayak.

"I thought, 'Oh, how nice.' Then, the next thing I noticed is he jumped onto the back of a kayak and then he lunged at me," she said. 

"I took my paddle and tried to push him off and that's when he made a lunge for me, for my back, and clung on and wouldn't get off… I screamed as loud as I could.

Spector suffered a torn earlobe, a gash on her nose, and a bite on her hand. (Submitted by Susan Spector)

"I thought, maybe, I'll scare him away. That didn't work. So with my paddle, I'm trying to push him off. Others in the group came to my rescue," she said. 

While she was fighting, the boat tipped. 

"He still clung on because he's very good in the water. The others kept beating at him on me," she said. "Eventually, I guess, we got him off. You don't really think about the details of what's happening when you're fighting like that."

A river otter is seen on the Rio Pueblo de Taos in New Mexico in 2008. Spector says the otter that attacked her was roughly a metre long. (New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Jim Stuart/Associated Press)

Another woman in the group got a bite on her arm while trying to help, said Spector.

She estimated the otter was almost a metre long. She was unsure of its sex.

While at the emergency room after the attack, Spector learned that she wasn't the only person that had been attacked by an otter recently.

"They said, 'Oh my, you know, this is the second otter bite we've had.' They had never seen one before in most of their medical careers. Otters are usually very shy and go away from a boat rather than attacking a boat." 

According to the WFLA, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said it received four reports of otter attacks on the Braden River that weekend. 

Spector says she had to get stitches on her earlobe after the otter tore through it. (Submitted by Susan Spector)

Spector says the FWC went out that same afternoon to look for the animal.

"I presume they're still searching. And they were supposed to let me know if they found it and I haven't heard back from them," she said. 

Spector says the incident has not put her off kayaking. She plans to get back out on the water after her hand is healed — just not in the same location she suffered the otter's wrath.

Written by Katie Geleff. Interview produced by Mary Newman. 

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