A four-foot river otter attacked an 8-year-old boy and his grandmother swimming in a Washington state river, nearly costing the boy his life. Bryce Moser, 8, and Lelani Grove were swimming in a shallow part of the Pilchuck River Thursday when the animal jumped on the boy, witnesses told the KOMO-TV, Seattle.

“[The otter] had him by the back of his head and it was holding him down,” said Dean Springer, the boy’s great-uncle. “Just the whole body was wrapped around him.”

The adults in the area reportedly sprang into action at the sound of Bryce’s screaming, which was only interrupted by his struggle to stay above the river’s surface. Grove was the first to respond, prying the otter off and triggering an attack on herself.

“It immediately went to the same position on the top of her head and had hands on her eyes and was biting the back of her head,” Moser’s mother told reporters. “As I’m hitting it with an umbrella and trying to get it off of her, it’s just getting more and more mad.”

Area swimming areas were closed through the end of the week, with Department of Agriculture officials putting up warning signs and unsuccessfully trying to trap the animal. While river otters do have sharp teeth adapted for a diet of crayfish, crabs and frogs, they normally present no threat to humans.

“It definitely shows the wildlife side of animals,” said Sgt. Jennifer Maurstad of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. “If an animal feels trapped or feels like it needs to defend its young, crazy things can happen. That’s what it sounds like happened in this event.” 

Bryce suffered deep lacerations and needed nine staples in his head. Grove had “hundreds of stitches” and suffered a serious eye injury, KOMO reported.

Other officials, while admitting the injuries are serious, reminded nervous swimmers it’s a good thing the otter didn’t have rabies.

“We’re not sure if it’s a hyper-aggressive male protecting territory or a female protecting its young,” Capt. Alan Myers of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife told the Associated Press. “There’s a lot of liability in trying to relocate an animal that’s been hyper-aggressive, and it would likely be euthanized. If it’s a female with pups, there’s another possible outcome if we can find a good location.”

Both the 8-year-old boy and his grandmother were released from the hospital Saturday.