Duluth, MN (Northlands NewsCenter)
-- 12,000 Otters populate rivers, streams and lakes across Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The mammal is the largest aquatic carnivore that lives mainly in the Northland.
While they usually prey on clams and fish, one otter recently went after a human on Duluth's Island Lake.
Leah Prudhomme has been swimming on Island Lake for years.
"I've done seven half iron man's as a sponsored athlete. I also coach and teach clinics on preparing your first triathlon and most peoples fear is open water swimming," says Prudhomme.
Simply put, she can swim so Wednesday evening, a dip in preparation for an Iron man wasn't a big deal.
"I was swimming out through here, out to the far island, so if you just kind of you jump over the bog to the backside, that's where the otter attacked," Prudhomme said staring over Island Lake.
An otter viciously attacked Prudhomme, leaving 25 bite and claw marks all over her lower torso and back. Luckily her wetsuit took the worst of it.
"You can see it left punctures all over. It didn't have any apprehensions on the wetsuit before," says Prudhomme examining her wetsuit.
But, the case of the Island Lake otter is uncommon.
"There have been 40 attacks in 20 years in United States. Most of those attacks occurred in Florida," says Biologist at NRRi Ron Moen.
"Either the animal was unhealthy, rabid or otherwise or it was a mother and mothers can be fiercely protective of their young," says Tara Lieberg who works at the Great Lakes Aquarium.
Prudhomme know this, but is still skeptical.
"I will swim in the cities in Lakes that have more boats or have a kayak with me or designated open water swims that aren't so rural. That might help," says Prudhomme.
But she still plans on swimming, biking and running iron man's this summer. Wildlife experts warn anybody to avoid ANY animals in their natural habitat.