JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska whale-watching cruise turned into a rescue mission for an unusual aquatic species — a distressed, swimming deer.
The 18-passenger tour vessel from Gastineau Guiding Co. lassoed the struggling deer on Wednesday, pulled it on board and gave it a ride to an island, Juneau radio station KTOO (http://bit.ly/2aD9xf6 ) reported.
Naturalist Audrey Benson said visitors and crew were watching whales when the boat received a radio transmission that deer were swimming in the saltwater on the west side of Shelter Island.
"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 appeared to be in distress. It was struggling to keep its head above water.
Crew on a larger tour boat tried to rescue the animal but gave up.
Benson, other crew members and passengers moved in, and with a rope, pulled the deer on board.
"The deer was immediately bewildered and disoriented and it was shaking a lot, it was shivering a lot," she said. "Its teeth were chattering. It tried to stand up but collapsed because it was so weak."
The crew motored to Shelter Island and released the deer.
"It was the craziest thing I've ever seen on any of my tours," Benson said. "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."
They never saw the other deer and presume it drowned.
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, deer regularly swim between islands in southeast Alaska and it's uncommon for them to drown.