As a zodiac skipper and wildlife guide, Mark Malleson has seen countless transient orcas, but last weekend was the first time he’s ever witnessed a pod swimming so close to a deer.
On Sunday, Malleson was leading a whale-watching tour in the Juan de Fuca Strait, just off the southern coast of Vancouver Island, when he spotted four killer whales. Not far away he noticed something else floating by, which he first thought was a tree. But when he got a better look, he realized the branches were actually antlers.
The tree turned out to be a young male deer swimming across the Strait. Although it’s typical for deer, and even moose, to swim between coastal islands, Malleson told CBC News that in the more than 20 years he’s been leading tours, it’s the first time he’s seen one next to a pod of killer whales.
Although Malleson managed to snap some photos of both the deer and the orcas, they never got close enough for a group shot, which is extremely lucky for the deer.
According to the Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals, transient killer whales like the ones Malleson spotted are relentless hunters and spend the majority of their day searching for food. They often prey on marine mammals, like dolphins and sea otters, but if given the opportunity, they’ll also go after terrestrial animals like deer and moose, intercepting them as they swim between islands.
When the orcas left the area, Malleson used his zodiac boat to help direct the deer to shore, since he seemed to be getting tired.
He said it felt good to help the deer back to shore, though he admits that he was excited by the thought of being one of the first people to document a hunt like this on camera.
“Unfortunately, there was no predation,” he said. “Well, fortunately for the deer… but unfortunately for the photo-op.”
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