Doh! A Deer? Dead and Live Deer Found on the Peninsula

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Oh deer. Rockaway has seen its fair share of wildlife, both dead and alive, wash up on its beaches, but usually they’re creatures that live in the ocean. So it was quite the shock to receive a call about a deer that washed up dead on Beach 96th Street. Even stranger—it wasn’t the only one spotted on the peninsula on Monday, September 17. Earlier that day, another deer was spotted running around State Road near Roxbury, sparking the question—what the buck?

It was a seemingly normal late afternoon fishing session for John Orgera, until about 5 p.m., when he spotted something—fishy. “I was out here fishing and coincidentally, I see something floating and right away my stomach turned. I thought it was the kid,” Orgera said, referring to Lamine Sarr, a 17-year-old who drowned late Saturday afternoon. At the time, the search was still underway for Sarr’s body. “So I called 911 and I’m on the phone with them and I’m looking out at the water and I’m like, wait a minute, it looks like a deer,” Orgera said. As not only a fisherman, but also a hunter, who even has a deer tattoo on his leg, Orgera would know. He waded into the water and pulled the dead animal—an 8-point whitetail buck—onto the beach. Shortly after, police responded, followed by members of the Parks Department to determine how to remove the unique find that left even the Parks Department staff stumped. “I’ve seen whales, dolphins and seals out here, but never anything like this,” one Parks staffer said. Shortly after, Parks Department staff removed the animal.

While the incident of a dead deer washing up on a beach in Rockaway seemed strange in itself, that wasn’t the first one spotted on the peninsula on Monday. In the morning, Frederick Sebade, of Rockaway Point, spotted a doe along State Road near Roxbury. Sebade and his daughter, Julianna,  followed the animal as it dotted into the NYPD’s Counterterrorism Bureau training center, formerly an Army Reserve Center. Julianna Sebade made sure to take some photos of the female deer that lacked antlers, unlike the one that washed up later in Rockaway Beach.

Deer are often found in rural areas, and even in parts of New York City, like Staten Island and parts of the Bronx, but for two to be seen on a beach peninsula like Rockaway, is a rarity. “Nobody alive has ever seen a deer in Rockaway,” Sebade said.

So where did they possibly come from? We reached out to local organizations like NYC Parks, National Park Service and the Department of Environmental Conservation for some insight. Richard Simon of NYC Parks' Wildlife Unit said, "Established populations of white-tailed deer can be found on Staten Island and in parts of Long Island. It is possible the deer came from one of these locations, but we cannot say for certain. Deer are driven by their basic instincts to survive, to find food and mates. They are also skittish animals that may have taken to the water to escape a threat and ended up far from home.  We cannot say for sure." A representative from the DEC reiterated that the deer may have come from Staten Island or Long Island.

It may be believable that the deer on Beach 96th Street drowned at some point, because deer are not typically thought of as water animals, but many may be surprised to learn that deer can indeed swim, and quite well. Deer are strong swimmers, swimming at a rate of up to 13 miles per hour. Deer are often found crossing bodies of water, and it is believed this is how deer first got to Staten Island. Deer have been seen, and even recorded, swimming from New Jersey to Staten Island.

Over the years, the numbers grew and there are now so many deer in Staten Island that efforts have been made to curb the population. With deer causing vehicle collisions and carrying tick-borne illnesses, and with no natural predators on Staten Island, unique efforts have been carried out to reduce the number of deer in the area. Hunting anywhere in New York City is illegal, so in May 2016, the City launched a deer impact management plan that included sterilizing male deer on Staten Island. By March 2018, 1,154 vasectomies were performed on deer in the area. Research showed that the effort was a success as Staten Island’s deer population dropped by eight percent, from 2,053 in 2017, to 1,884 in 2018.

It is not clear if this population reduction has any connection to why deer are traveling to areas that they’re not typically seen, like the beach. However, Rockaway isn’t the only beach that deer have visited recently. On August 17, beachgoers were shocked when a white-tailed deer swam right up onto the beach at Coney Island and started wandering around the beach and boardwalk.

In past incidences of deer popping up in places they’re not known in, like Brooklyn and Manhattan, some have been relocated to places upstate or back to Staten Island, and in some instances, they were left alone. It is not clear if any agency located the deer in Roxbury or what will be done with it.

In the meantime, the public is advised to not feed any deer, as it is illegal, and to keep a safe distance. You may also want to keep an eye out while driving.

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