Most people would think twice before paddling towards something unidentified in the water. On different occasions, there have been sharks, and crocodiles in the ocean off the coast of North Carolina. To say that Tyler Balak took a risk on a clear day in Cape Hatteras would be an understatement.
The incredible report first published the the Virginian-Pilot is a prime example of how courage can save lives.
At first, nobody in the water could quite make out what they were looking at. Some thought it might be more sharks swimming dangerously close to the coast and headed for the shore. Balak thought it might be driftwood, but something was telling him he needed to check it out.
It’s a good thing he did, because as he approached, he realized everyone had guessed incorrectly.
“I yelled, ‘Oh my God, it’s a deer!'” Balak told reporters.
Hard as it was to believe, there was a young deer swimming aimlessly in the water. The fawn was disoriented, in shock, and struggling to keep its head above the crashing waves. After he realized what he was looking at, Balak paddled his surfboard as quickly as he could towards the deer.
When he got there, the baby deer seemed moments away from drowning. It’s difficult to say how long it had been in the ocean, but Balak believes it had been about a half hour. It was exhausted from a long period of frantic paddling, and the normally energetic deer was limp, putting up no fight while being held.
The 33-year-old Virginia Beach native, avid surfer, and adjunct anatomy and physiology professor at Old Dominion University had saved the animal’s life. He was already a hero, but he knew his duty wasn’t done yet. The deer was now officially his responsibility, and he wanted to make sure it was rehabilitated responsibly.
“It was shaking. It was clearly in shock,” said Balak.
Balak and his girlfriend Jenn had difficulty finding someone who was willing to take the youngster. They called the National Park Service, but were unable to reach anyone. Attempts to hand the deer off to them in person failed also. They were especially worried, since fawns can injure themselves in captivity.
After searching around on the internet, they came across Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation, an animal rescue shelter only 6 miles away. The shelter agreed to take the fawn and rehabilitate it before releasing it into the wild. They were met by Lou Browning when they arrived, who had a padded room ready for the miracle deer.
Browning watched the deer carefully over the next few hours. Everything was pointing towards a full recovery, and Browning suspected that he would be able to release it within a matter of hours. The deer had excellent muscle tone, wasn’t displaying any signs of lethargy or injury, and was moving around the padded room well.
“It was coming out of its ocean shock at that point and ready to go ballistic,” Browning said.
Once Browning was sure the deer was in the clear, he sedated it and released into the wild only a few hours after it arrived in the facility.
Nobody is quite sure how the fawn ended up in the ocean in the first place. Balak assumes it was either separated from its mother and chased into the ocean, or the current took it out to while it was licking salt off the rocks.
Either way, it’s a happy ending that wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the kindness and courage of this college professor and surfer.