Triathlete recovering after bite from harbor seal

September 12, 2023

Triathlete recovering after bite from harbor seal

Puget Sound swimmers take note: If you’re bitten by a pinniped (sea lion or seal) while in the water, you might need antibiotics beyond those traditionally prescribed to treat an animal bite. 

Dana Robertson Halter is recovering after such a bite in early August. During her annual two-mile swim off Decatur Island, she was slowed by a kelp bed and began to tread water.  She felt a sharp pain in her left leg. A single bite from a seal had punctured her wet suit. 

“When I got myself in the rowboat, I saw her head pop up about 15 feet away,” said Robertson Halter, an experienced open water swimmer. “She was adorable, and also had a pup that she thought I was too close to.” 

She was initially treated at an emergency room in Skagit County, where she received stitches and antibiotics. But a week later, her wound was not improving and she began to develop a fever. She was referred to the Infectious Diseases & Tropical Medicine Clinic at UW Medical Center – Montlake. 

“This is the first time I've seen a seal bite, although it's certainly something that I've learned about in my training,” said Dr. Sally Baker, an infectious diseases fellow at UW Medicine. “What is in the mouth of a cat or a dog is very different than what's in the mouth of a seal or a sea lion.” 

The care team took bacterial cultures from her wound and discovered that a type of bacteria often found in water, and likely not directly from the seal’s mouth, was delaying her healing. 

“Once we were able to get her on an antibiotic that treated the bacteria that had contaminated her wound, then we were able to get her feeling much better really quickly,” Baker said.  

Robertson Halter says the wild run-in hasn’t shaken her passion for swimming, nor her love for seals. 

“Exercise is my therapy and the way I keep my mind and body strong,” she said. “I will 100% be back with my master’s swim team in the pool. I just will probably treat ocean swimming with a bit more caution.” 

Download broadcast-ready soundbites and b-roll on Robertson Halter's encounter and her ensuing treatment at UW Medicine.

Dana Robertson Halter (image)

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