The swimming deer that was spotted in the bay is no surprise to wildlife experts

A deer swims under the Verrazano Bridge toward Jamestown in the western pass of Narragansett Bay in August.  Liz Reynsant Latail / Facebook

A deer swims under the Verrazano Bridge toward Jamestown in the western pass of Narragansett Bay in August. Liz Reynsant Latail / Facebook

Falling here, watch out for deer. This also applies to boaters.

The estrus will arrive as the leaves fall as summer ends, which means the dollars will start mating.

The estrus is usually accompanied by road signs warning drivers of deer, and while road motorists in Jamestown have been trained to spot deer, the same can be true for boats in the bay.

On August 29, a post on the Jamestown Community Facebook page by Liz Reinsant-Lataille included a photo of a deer swimming in the West Passage with the Verrazzano Bridge in the background.

“I watched this deer swim from the mainland to Jamestown last week,” she wrote. “There is a first thing for everything.”

The post received 260 likes, 27 shares and 59 comments, which is relatively common for a community page. It also raises the question whether deer are natural swimmers.

According to David Kalb, a supervising wildlife biologist with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, white-tailed deer are good swimmers, swimming longer distances and in deeper waters than a large mammal on land might expect.

“They’re not super fast in the water,” he said, “but they certainly are able to move long distances.” “Deer have incredible stamina. They can go a long way before they get tired. Miles is no question.”

Deer also swim as a way out to avoid predators, and Caleb has seen him swim across bodies of water to avoid aggressive bucks in the mating season. Moreover, deer swim to explore or move to another area for better habitat or better food availability, which is probably why they came to Konanikot Island in the first place.

Similar to dogs, deer use their front and back legs for swimming, but their legs are narrow and they cannot swim as fast as dogs can. Deer can swim at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour and up to 10 miles, according to Deer World, a website cited by PBS, National Geographic and the University of Michigan. While deer can be spotted swimming in the summer, Caleb said it’s easier for them to swim in its gray winter coat rather than its reddish-brown summer fur.

“The winter coat is hollow, so the hair already has air inside,” he said. And because of that, they have a really great buoyancy factor. The hair isn’t as thick as a beaver, for example, where it won’t get wet, but it’s hollow and warm so they can get in the water and swim and get out and stay fairly comfortable.”

Some deer species can swim better than the white-tailed deer of Rhode Island, such as the sika deer in Japan, which have a stocky build and live in a wet, swampy environment.

Deer can be found on most of the islands of Narragansett Bay, including those not inhabited by humans, such as Dutch, Gould, and Patience. Officials said the smaller islands in the bay, such as the islands of Spar and Gott, have no deer.

One of the islands that deer are unlikely to reach by swimming is Block Island. Deer numbers were introduced there by humans in 1967, and there is now an excessive abundance of them in New Shoreham. Caleb said it would be difficult for them to swim that distance of at least 15 miles from mainland Rhode Island.

Caleb said the deer likely first got to the islands of Narragansett Bay either by swimming or walking when the bay froze in winter.

Deer can be spotted swimming in the bay all year round. While DEM receives reports from the public about deer swimming, they do not keep records of those sightings and it is not known where they are most commonly spotted in Rhode Island waters. A dog said he hears reports once every few years.

A dog said that anyone who saw a deer swimming in the bay should give the animal their space. According to the agency’s hunting regulations, hunting or hunting deer while swimming in any waters in Rhode Island is prohibited. Deer are less likely to experience distress while swimming, and sick or injured deer are more likely to find a spot on the ground to rest rather than enter the water.

“If a deer goes into the water, it probably has a reason to do so,” he said. “A deer in poor condition probably won’t get into the water knowing it’s going to struggle.”

Last year, a group of boaters found a deer swimming near Ann Street Pier in Newport that seemed to be in distress. She was heading towards an area where they thought she could drown. After removing the animal from the water, they brought it to Fort Adams State Park and released it.

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