Balsam Lake, Wis. — One of three young girls who were visiting Wisconsin’s Bone Lake from the Minneapolis area received numerous head, arm, and leg injuries during a sustained attack Aug. 9 by a full-grown otter.
None of the injuries were serious, or required stitches.
Rory Kliewer, of Minneapolis, was attacked by the otter while swimming from an inflatable raft to a dock on Polk County’s Bone Lake about noon that Saturday. Kliewer and her 12-year-old friends, Marley Hinschberger and Madison Curtis, had been swimming on the tube near the mouth of Fox Creek on the southeast end of Bone Lake.
All three girls were swimming back to the dock when the otter attacked. Hinschberger and Curtis had climbed up a ladder fastened to the dock and were standing on the dock, waiting for Kliewer to reach the ladder and climb up.
Kliewer was climbing up the ladder and was partly out of the water when the otter attacked her from behind. The otter climbed onto her back and bit and clawed her head.
“I thought a northern (pike) or a turtle was after me,” Kliewer said. “When I hit it with my arm, I could see that it was an otter. It was hissing, scratching, and biting me. It smelled terrible. I was afraid it was going to pull me under water.”
Kliewer, who is not being a confident swimmer, was wearing a life jacket. Neighbors and Hinschberger’s parents, Sue and Pat Hinschberger, speculated that the life jacket probably prevented Kliewer from receiving further injuries. At one point, one of the three girls screamed, “It’s an otter!” But none of the three can remember who spoke that line.
Curtis jumped onto a bench on the dock and Hinschberger ran down the dock toward shore. Kliewer managed to free herself from the otter and climbed the rest of the way out of the water. She took off running on the 100-foot dock toward shore. Curtis, still standing up on the bench, watched as the otter “leaped right out of the water” and started chasing Kliewer off the dock. Kliewer has some track experience, and said, “I never ran so fast in my life.”
After reaching shore, Kliewer ran into a rescue team – of sorts.
Sue Hinschberger, Marley’s mom, had been sitting on shore watching the girls swimming when the attack occurred. She ran toward Kliewer, with the otter now on shore and at least 10 feet from the lake. Hinschberger stood her ground and began screaming and yelling at the otter. The otter pulled up short, hissing and snarling at Hinschberger. Her husband, Pat Hinschberger, joined the fracas along with Nellie, their chocolate Lab. Pat Hinschberger was in a cabin and had heard the girls screaming.
After realizing the seriousness of the screaming, he came on the run. The now-outnumbered otter finally retreated to the water and swam away.
Sue Hinschberger, an RN and trauma nurse, examined the blood-covered Kliewer, looking for any major wounds. After finding none, they took the girl to Amery Regional Medical Center. The hospital ER staff treated Kliewer for potential infections at the wound sites and started her on a series of injections for rabies, just to be safe. She suffered from cuts, scratches, bites, and bruising over large parts of her body.
Kliewer quickly became a celebrity of sorts in the hospital because of the otter attack. The ER doctor said that in 35 years of being a doctor, and of all his years in the area, this was the first time he had treated a patient for injuries from an otter attack. Kliewer was released from the hospital and returned to the Hinschberger residence on Bone Lake the same day.
The excitement – and shock – of the event had not diminished the following day when the girls recounted their story. According to the group, during the entire event the otter was focused on attacking Kliewer. It was her first visit to Bone Lake.
“I’m going to stick to a swimming pool for a while, and I don’t want to see any otters again,” she said.
Kliewer said that during the attack her thoughts were: “What’s happening? What’s hurting. Why is it going after me? How do I get away and run?”
Pat Hinschberger said Nellie weighs 75 pounds, and he guessed the otter weighed about 40 pounds.
Residents living near the Hinschbergers had on occasion seen otters in the area and around their docks. The three girls did not see any otters in the area before the attack. While attacks of humans by river otters are rare, they have occurred.
Bone Lake resident Bob Boyd said that he knows of an otter attack of a hiker on Isle Royale. The hiker reached down to pet an otter that was lying on a trail. He lost a couple of fingers and had severe wounds on his arm. The Wisconsin DNR wildlife biologist Dave MacFarland also knows of a man who lost a finger to an otter while swimming.
“They are wild animals and should be given lots of room, even if they look friendly and cute,” Boyd said.
This was Kliewer’s first visit to Bone Lake. The morning before the attack, the three friends had breakfast at the Thirsty Otter restaurant in Balsam Lake.
Wisconsin Outdoor News reader Bob Boyd, of Milltown, interviewed those involved in this incident and provided the information for this story.