Otters attack woman while swimming in Greeny Lake

Visitor from Cloverdale bitten repeatedly while trying to swim away

Theresa Weltzin of Cloverdale was swimming in Greeny Lake on Aug. 1 when she was attacked by otters. At least one otter bit her repeatedly for about five minutes

Theresa Weltzin of Cloverdale was swimming in Greeny Lake on Aug. 1 when she was attacked by otters. At least one otter bit her repeatedly for about five minutes

A woman was injured when she was attacked by otters in Greeny Lake, in a rare, but not unheard of, incident of human-aquatic life conflict.

Cloverdale resident Theresa Weltzin was visiting in-laws at their cabin when she went for a swim to cool off shortly before noon on Aug. 1, in what she thought were safe waters.

To her shock and terror, partway across the lake she was attacked and bitten nine times by at least one otter and possibly two.

“As I was about three quarter of the way across, about [80 metres from the far shore], I heard a splash. I looked around and about 20 metres behind me is this animal coming for me directly.”

This worried her, so she stopped and watched as the otter then ducked under the surface just off to her right.

The former lifeguard and water polo player began to do a backstroke that kept her head up, when the otter attacked.

“I’m pedalling backward and doing egg-beaters with my legs and it’s biting me over and over again, and I’m screaming at the top of my lungs for my brother-in-law to help. It was pretty frightening.”

She saw another otter at this time, but says she doesn’t know if it joined in the attack, as the lake’s water is murky.

Her husband’s brother, Brian Weltzin, heard Theresa’s cries and headed out in a kayak, with his son following in a rowboat, reaching her about five minutes later.

“As soon as they came, I grabbed on to the kayak and the biting stopped. But [Brian] said he had the paddle ready to hit the otter.”

The animal then swam away toward the east end of the lake, and Theresa was pulled back to shore by hanging on to the kayak, and taken to the emergency room at 100 Mile District General Hospital for treatment of her numerous wounds.

A Conservation Officer was notified and attended the hospital, where she says he asked if she had seen see otter kits anywhere, and she told him “oh, God no.”

Theresa notes she swam across Greeny Lake two days before that without incident, and never saw any signs of an otter den or any young either time.

She adds it was a relief to get safely to shore, and once her wounds were attended to, she quickly returned home to see her family doctor.

“He gave me three combinations of antibiotics, so the wounds are healing. I’m using lots of Polysporin. The ER doctor said they’re not going to suture anything closed … in case there is an infection.”

Theresa was also directed to Surrey Memorial Hospital for a potential rabies shot, where the BC Centre for Disease Control, biologists and others were consulted and determined that rabies infection was “so unlikely” she did not need the vaccine.

Theresa says she counted nine bites. The biggest gouge is on her left calf on the outside, which is now about one centimetre across by two-and-a-half cm long.

There is another cut on her left thigh; and on her right leg, she has another six bites. Theresa notes when her left finger was bitten as she tried to fend off the otter, she had checked to make sure she hadn’t lost part of it.

The COs told her they contacted the Coast Guard, which relayed back it gets one or two otter attack reports each year, but they typically bite just once and swim away.

The strong swimmer notes she would not want to have a child or another family member injured.

However, Theresa says she is still reeling from the horror of her attack, with almost nightly flashbacks, so avoids dwelling about other, potentially worse outcomes.

She’d prefer to see these otters destroyed, Theresa explains, so people on the lake aren’t afraid to swim there anymore.

“When a dog bites and attacks a person, they usually call for it to be put down because it’s not a normal behaviour. And, it went after me.”