A deer swam about two miles in the Pacific Ocean off Laguna Beach Sunday through surf up to 4 feet high and over submerged rocks before eventually finding safe haven in an Emerald Bay backyard.
The deer was first reported in the sea off Aliso Beach around 8:30 a.m. when Laguna Beach lifeguards responded to the area but were unable to locate it. Around 10 a.m., the deer was sighted again off the waters near Main Beach, where animal control officers and other lifeguards were awaiting it, said Kai Bond, captain of Laguna Beach marine safety.
The animal then ran into a ravine just below the Las Brisas restaurant at the north end of Main Beach Park and went to rest. Wildlife officials with the Department of Fish and Wildlife were also called to the scene but advised local animal control not to calm the deer, said Laguna Beach Police Chief Jeff Calvert.
“We do not elect to shoot an animal unless it is absolutely necessary for public safety,” said Tim Daly, spokesman for the wildlife department. “Shooting an animal near water seems to put it in a dangerous situation. There was no reason for game wardens watching the deer today to do that.”
The deer, weighing about 120 pounds, later ran down the Coast Highway and headed about a mile toward Emerald Bay, a gated community on north Laguna Beach. There, Bond said, it ran into a backyard where it was observed by Laguna Beach animal control officers late Sunday afternoon.
Finally, when it was deemed safe, the deer was stunned so it could be released back into the wild.
It’s not uncommon to see deer swimming, said Rob Rojas, a wildlife agency officer on Fish and Wildlife’s boat, Thresher. He saw her in the water near Catalina Island.
“As far as I know, they can swim up to 10 miles,” he said. “They’re pretty solid.”
But Bond called the deer’s swim at Laguna Beach a “surprising distance,” adding that he wasn’t sure where it might have started and that it might have swum further.
Deer 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 at Salt Creek Beach in Dana Point and was herded in by Dana Hills surf team coach Tim Samson after it was about a quarter mile offshore. The animal made it back to shore and survived.
But in two previous incidents at Laguna Beach in 2010 and 2012, deer that made it to the ocean weren’t so lucky.
In 2012, a deer was first spotted by construction workers building a home in Irvine Cove. From there it ran to Emerald Bay where it jumped into the water. While attempting to swim in the sea towards Aliso Beach, the animal suffered what appeared to be a heart attack and died.
In 2010, a deer walked through downtown Laguna Beach. After running through several stores and colliding with a car, it spilled into the sea off Main Beach. It returned to the sand and then ran into a nearby sea cave. Laguna Beach lifeguards and Laguna Beach animal control officers tried to revive it, but the animal died.