Seagoing Deer in Orca Waters

Whale-watchers in local waters have become used to the seals and sea lions, the Orcas and humpbacks that delight visitors.

But on Sunday a Victoria-based Zodiac came across a deer buck off East Sooke Park swimming bravely toward Neah Bay while transient Orcas lurked nearby.

Captain Mark Malleson, with five passengers aboard, knew that he had to do more than watch a deadly drama unfold.

He decided to give the deer, by this time half a mile offshore, “a fighting chance.” He used the Zodiac to turn it back to a place on the rocks where it could get out. It clambered up, exhausted.

Malleson, head Zodiac captain with Prince of Whales, says the encounter was the first of its kind in his 20 years on the job.

He spotted the Orca bull on the hunt offshore first, then the rest of the pod swimming parallel with it close to shore. He recognized them as four T-137 transients.

“I saw what looked like a tree in the water, but it was moving, and moving toward the Orca. Then I realized the branches were antlers.”

And he knew that based on occasional anecdotal reports over the last 40 years experts have suspected that transients have been preying on land-based animals as well as marine ones like seals and sea lions. Transients have been observed feeding on a deer carcass, they’ve been seen circling a rock on which deer had taken refuge.

And deer frequently swim across channels in local waters. Bloated carcasses of those that have drowned have been seen afloat.

The chance to observe Orcas actually preying on a swimming deer may have been missed. The encounter would have been more dramatic if it had ended differently, Malleson says, “but it felt good getting the buck back to safety.”

For the visitors – two from Edmonton, three from the U.S. – the experience must be unforgettable.

They’d already got their money’s worth, he says: They’d sighted seals and sea lions and two humpbacks before the skipper decided to make a loop off East Sooke to look for Orcas.

Transient killer whales are here year-round now. Like the humpbacks feeding and frolicking within a 15 minute trip from Ogden Point.

Contact: Mark Malleson: markmalleson@shaw.ca. 250-514-1186