A deer swam an estimated two miles in the Pacific Ocean off Laguna Beach on Sunday, through surf as high as 4 feet and over submerged rocks, before eventually finding a safe haven in an Emerald Bay backyard.
The deer was first reported in the ocean off Aliso Beach around 8:30 am when Laguna Beach lifeguards responded to the area but could not find it. Around 10 am, the deer was spotted again off the waters near Main Beach, where animal control officers and more lifeguards awaited it, said Laguna Beach Marine Safety Captain Kai Bond.
The animal then ran up into a canyon area just under Las Brisas restaurant at the north end of Main Beach Park and laid down to rest. Wildlife officers from the Department of Fish and Wildlife were also called to the scene but advised the local animal control not to tranquilize the deer, said Laguna Beach Police Chief Jeff Calvert.
“We don’t choose to dart an animal unless it’s absolutely necessary for public safety,” said Tim Daly, spokesperson for the wildlife department. “Darting an animal near water would seem to put it into a dangerous situation. There was no reason for wildlife officers who were observing the deer today to do that.”
The deer, about 120 pounds, later ran along Coast Highway, heading about a mile toward Emerald Bay, a gated community in northern Laguna Beach. There, Bond said, it ran into a backyard, where it was being observed by Laguna Beach animal control officers late Sunday afternoon.
Eventually, when it was deemed safe, the deer was tranquilized so it could be relocated back into the wild.
It’s not unusual for deer to swim, said Rob Rojas, a boarding officer on Fish and Wildlife’s patrol boat, Thresher. He’s seen them in the water near Catalina Island.
“They can swim up to 10 miles from what I understand,” he said. “They’re pretty solid.”
He also added that the deer typically run into water bodies to shed ticks, cool down, or escape a predator or another perceived danger.
But Bond called the deer’s swim along Laguna Beach a “surprising distance,” adding that he’s not sure where it might have started and that it might have swum even further.
Deers in the ocean in Laguna Beach and south Orange County are rare but not unheard of, Daly said.
In 2016, a deer was spotted swimming off Salt Creek Beach in Dana Point and was herded in by Dana Hills surf team coach Tim Sampson after it was about a quarter mile offshore. The animal made it back to shore and survived.
But in two previous incidents in Laguna Beach in 2010 and 2012, deer that made it to the ocean were not so lucky.
In 2012, a deer was first spotted by construction workers building a home in Irvine Cove. It ran from there to Emerald Bay, where it jumped into the water. While trying to swim in the ocean towards Aliso Beach, the animal suffered what appeared to be a heart attack and died.
In 2010, a deer ran through downtown Laguna Beach. After running through several shops and crashing into a car, it ran out into the ocean off Main Beach. It returned to the sand, then ran into a nearby ocean cave. Laguna Beach lifeguards and Laguna Beach animal control officers attempted to give it CPR but the animal died.