Man Viciously Attacked by Otters in Northern California Left with 40 Puncture Wounds

Serene Lakes

A harrowing encounter with aggressive otters at Serene Lakes in Placer County has left one man pushing for more stringent wildlife safety measures in the area.

Matt Leffers, a long-time visitor to his family’s cabin by the lake, recently experienced a terrifying otter attack on September 3, 2023, during a routine swim.

“I felt something bite my calf. Within seconds, I was bit again,” Leffers said to KCRA. “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 endured over a dozen bites from two otters, resulting in approximately 40 puncture wounds on his body. He described the situation as life-threatening.

“These things were so aggressive that, literally, I felt like they wanted to kill me. It is by far the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had in my life. Nothing even comes close.”

Leffers’ wife was able to rescue him with a paddleboat and bring him to shore, but the damage had already been done.

This incident isn’t isolated. A previous otter attack on an individual occurred at Serene Lakes in July. A spokesperson for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife acknowledged these incidents are rare but explained that otters are territorial and may defend their hunting grounds.

A letter from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to the Serene Lakes community suggested managing the lake’s fisheries to reduce the availability of food for otters in swimming areas. They also advised community members avoid swimming for the remainder of the season, alongside increasing educational signage in public areas.

Leffers believes these measures are inadequate.

“Fish and Wildlife has been very wimpy in their response. They need to mitigate the situation before somebody gets killed.”

State wildlife officials plan to confirm the number and ages of otters at Serene Lakes and develop a strategy accordingly to address the situation.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


  1. This incident is not isolated to the Sierras. Otter attacks have occurred on the Klamath River in Siskiyou County to people. Wildlife needs to be given wide berth whenever possible. Otters are not “cute furry animals”. What happened to Mr Leffers was certainly not his fault and I’m not saying that. But, as we keep seeing in the news, many people (not Mr Leffers) do not give wild animals the respect they are due.

    The solution at Serene Lakes is not easy. What to do in other areas is similarly complex. I would hate to see the animals destroyed because of this. Personally, if it means the lake needs to be closed to swimming and the otters left alone that would be my solution.

    Leffers is right that the otters are extremely capable. A neighborhood girl in our small town was victimized by the otters and bitten 30-40 times around 15 years ago on the Klamath when going in the river for a swim during a rafting trip. When I kayak or raft on the river now and see an otter I give them the widest berth possible and get by them as fast as I can paddle or row.

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