By Carole Rooney
Cloverdale’s Thersa Weltzin was injured when she was attacked by otters in a lake near 100 Mile House in a rare, but not unheard of, incident of human-aquatic life conflict.
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, part way across Greeny Lake in the South Cariboo 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,” she told Black Press. “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 because the lake’s water is murky, she doesn’t know if it joined in the attack.
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 onto 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 said he asked if she had seen see otter kits anywhere, and she told him, “Oh, God no.”
She noted 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.
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.
Weltzin was put on three combinations of antibiotics to prevent infection rather than have her wounds stitched up.
She was directed to Surrey Memorial Hospital for a potential rabies shot, where the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, biologists and others were consulted and determined that rabies infection was “so unlikely” she didn’t need the vaccine.
Weltzin counted nine bites. The biggest gouge was on her left calf and measured about 1 cm across by two-and-a-half cm long.
There was another cut on her left thigh, one on her right leg, plus another six bites.
When her left finger was bitten as she tried to fend off the otter, she checked to make sure she hadn’t lost part of it, said Weltzin, who was left reeling after the attack, but avoids dwelling on other, potentially worse outcomes.
Weltzin said she has since recovered from a bout of periorbital cellulitis requiring antibiotics by IV for six days, a course of treatment that wrapped up earlier this week.
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.
Conservation Officer Len Butler said otter attacks are rare in B.C., but some bites have been reported on Vancouver Island.
His “best guess” is the otters were protecting their pups, but as none were found, he added it may have been a territorial defence of the lake’s high minnow population.
“We can’t give you an explanation of why they did this, but it’s got to be a territorial thing.
“I think she was in the wrong place at the wrong time and the otters obviously felt threatened.
– Carole Rooney is a reporter with the 100 Mile Free Press, a sister paper to the Cloverdale Reporter.