Deer rescue operation occurs off Juneau’s Shelter Island

While passing the west side of Juneau’s Shelter Island Wednesday, an 18-passenger tour vessel saw more than whales.

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Shelter Island near Auke Bay. (Image courtesy Google Maps)
Shelter Island near Auke Bay. (Image courtesy Google Maps)

Audrey Benson is a naturalist with Gastineau Guiding Company. She was on the tour when the crew heard some news over the radio.

“And we heard that there were two deer that were swimming across in the water,” Benson said. “So after we watched the whales for a bit our passengers were curious and wanted to see the deer, and so we motored over to them and it turns out there was only one.”

The deer was struggling to stay above water. After a larger tour boat tried to rescue the animal a few times, it gave up. But Benson, along with the passengers and crew, decided to keep trying. They were eventually able to lasso the deer and pull it onto the boat.

“The deer was immediately bewildered and disoriented and it was shaking a lot, it was shivering a lot, its teeth were chattering,” Benson said. It tried to stand up but collapsed because it was so weak.”

The crew was able to drop the deer off at Shelter Island-but not before it tried to swim back into the water again.

“It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen on any of my tours. I mean, you never know what’s going to happen but for a deer rescue-I’ve never even been that close to a deer, I’ve never touched one-and to have an opportunity to assist this struggling animal, it was very intense.”

The other deer disappeared before the group reached it, and is presumed to have drowned. The Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game says it’s very uncommon for deer to drown, adding that deer regularly swim from island to island.