Deer struggling in cold Alaskan waters saved by wildlife troopers who give them a lift in their boat

Oct 17, 2023, 2:56 PM | Updated: 4:24 pm

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Two deer struggling in the waters of southeast Alaska’s famed Inside Passage finally made it to land, thanks to two Alaska Wildlife Troopers who gave the deer a lift in their boat.

Sgt. Mark Finses and trooper Kyle Fuege were returning from a patrol in nearby Ernest Sound to Ketchikan on Oct. 10 when they spotted the deer, agency spokesperson Justin Freeman said in an email to The Associated Press.

The deer were about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) from any island in the channel, which is favored by large cruise ships taking tourists in summer months to locations such as Ketchikan and Juneau.

The deer were floating down Clarence Strait about 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) northwest of Ketchikan, but not toward any particular island, Freeman said. They were fighting the current during midtide.

“Out in the middle of Clarence, they’re in rough shape, like on their last leg,” Finses said on a video he shot with his phone and that the troopers posted to social media.

The troopers stopped their 33-foot (10-meter) patrol vessel about 150 yards (137 meters) from the two deer, which saw the boat and headed toward it. The troopers shut off the engines so the animals wouldn’t be spooked.

When the deer reached the boat, they butted their heads against it, then swam right up the swim step, at which point the troopers helped them get the rest of the way onboard. Once in the boat, the deer shivered from their time in the cold water. The average temperature of the water in Ketchikan in October is 50.4 degrees Fahrenheit (10.2 degrees Celsius), according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“I’m soaked to the bone,” Finses says on the video. “I had to pick them up and bear hug them to get them off our deck and get them on the beach.”

Once back on land, the deer initially had difficulty standing and walking, Freeman said. But eventually, they were able to walk around slowly before trotting off.

“The deer ended up being completely OK,” he said.

It’s common to see deer swimming in southeast Alaska waters, going from one island to another; what’s not common is to have deer swim up to a boat and try to get on it, Freeman said.

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Deer struggling in cold Alaskan waters saved by wildlife troopers who give them a lift in their boat