Aug. 2 was supposed to be a relaxing day on the river, a birthday celebration for Jen Royce with two of her best friends.
But it ended with the trio fighting for their lives after they were attacked by river otters while floating the Jefferson River.
Royce still has a long road to recovery ahead of her. She declined to an interview with MTN News but shared her account on social media. She wrote the attack began just before dark near the Lewis and Clark Caverns on the river, when she noticed an otter behind her friend.
“I didn’t even have a chance to get the words 'there is an otter behind you,' out of me before it attacked her,” Royce wrote.
Within seconds, all three women were under attack.
“This thing was vicious and relentless. It bit my face in several places, both of my ears, my arms, my hands, my legs, my thighs and my ankle. My friends were bit on the hands and on their bottom. One friend’s thumb was shredded, and she had bite marks all over her body as well,” wrote Royce.
Royce said that because they were in the middle of the river, she was unable to reach the bottom with her feet, making it tough to defend herself.
“We were helpless. I tried to kick it away, but I would just get attacked somewhere else. I tried to hold it back at one point by grabbing its arm to hold it away while trying to swim closer to shore,” Royce wrote.
“In the wild, they are pretty territorial animals, especially around their young and and especially if resources are scarce,” said Jeff Ewelt, executive director of ZooMontana.
While Ewelt doesn’t know why the animals attacked, he said otters can be dangerous. Despite their small size, they can cause a lot of damage, especially in the water.
“You can only do so much to fight back when you’re in the water. Those teeth, I mean they’re carnivores, they’re built to eat crustaceans and fish, so powerful bite on them. They’ve got some pretty good claws as well but it’s really that mouth that you got to watch for,” Ewelt said.
Royce and her friends know that all too well. She wrote that she thought she was going to die.
“With all my heart, I did not think I was not going to wake up if I closed my eyes and passed out. I made the choice, knowing the pain it would cause my friend to tell her I loved her and to ask her to watch over my kids,” wrote Royce.
After escaping the otters in what Royce said was a five-minute attack, she and her friends waited 53 minutes on the riverbank for help to arrive.
She has since undergone surgery and lost half of her right ear. Her ankles, legs, arm, and face were also badly punctured.
But she’s thankful to be alive after the fight of her life.
“Fighting back is going to be the best option. Because they’re not going to give up on you, especially if you’re in the water, they’re going to try to eliminate the threat,” Ewelt said.