Deer Avoid Drowning by Boarding Charter Boat

12/14/2011

I just learned about this odd and extraordinary wildlife rescue that happened in October in Alaska.  It's such an amazing story, I don't know why I didn't hear about it earlier.

According to the report in the Juneau Empire, Tom Satre, his sister Sharon Kelly and a few other family members were heading across Taku Inlet near Juneau on Tom's charter boat for a picnic at the State Marine Park. 

About a mile offshore, Sharon, a birder, spotted something odd in the water coming towards the boat through her binoculars.  What she first thought were sea lions or shorebirds turned out to be four young Sitka black-tailed deer (a subspecies of mule deer). 

Sitka Deer Rescue 2 SHARON KELLY
Four distressed Sitka deer swim desperately towards the Alaska Quest Charter Boat.

Even though Sitka deer are known for their swimming ability and often cross large bodies of water between islands, these four where in obvious distress in the frigid water and whipping winds that had stirred up two to three foot swells in the inlet.  The biggest sign of that distress was the fact that the deer actually swam towards the boat and tried to board it, their fear of drowning overpowering their fear of people.

Unable to propel themselves out of the water in their exhaustion, they had to be hauled out onto the deck, where they collapsed.  There, the hypothermic deer slowly but calmly recovered.

Sitka Deer Rescue SHARON KELLY
The deer calmly recover on the deck of the boat after their near-drowning experience.

When the boat reached opposite shore, three of the four deer were able to make it off and into the woods on their own.  The fourth deer, however, had to be hauled off the boat in a wheelbarrow and couldn't stand on his own for a long while.  After a few hours, however, he managed to stay standing, albeit a bit wobbly, and the rescuers took their leave.

Sitka Deer Rescue 3 SHARON KELLY
One deer was still weak when they reached the shore and had to be carried off the boat.

The whole incident was definitely not something Tom or Sharon could have ever anticipated when they set out across the inlet that morning.  Luckily for the deer, they were in the right place at the right time and were able to give these young animals another chance at life. 

Watch The Top 10 Animal Rescues from Animal Cops.

Adopt a Deer with the National Wildlife Federation.

Photos by Sharon Kelly.  Check out the Alaska Quest Charters website for more photos.  


David Mizejewski is a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. His goal is to inspire others to appreciate the wonders of nature. Meet David >
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