Mountain goat death in Seward prompts calls for photographers to give animals space

A mountain goat that later drowned in Resurrection Bay in Seward appears on the right side of...
A mountain goat that later drowned in Resurrection Bay in Seward appears on the right side of photo. (KTUU)
Published: Jul. 18, 2016 at 7:09 AM AKDT
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Kerri O’Neill had just finished dinner at a Seward restaurant with her young daughter on Saturday when she noticed something unusual run through the parking lot -– a mountain goat.

O’Neill and her child got into their car as the goat headed toward the beach.

Something had spooked the goat off the mountains and into the streets of downtown Seward. Now the animal appeared to be trying to find a way back. But as it ran along the beach, onlookers blocked its way.

At some point the goat jumped into the water.

“There was a sea otter next to it. And then a woman’s Spaniel swam out to it,” O’Neill said.

Desperate to help the goat, O’Neill called the Alaska SeaLife Center. A woman who answered told her to contact the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage, which she did. O’Neill said she was told to try to encourage people to stay away from the goat.

“I wish there was a better system,” O’Neill said.

Alaska Wildlife Troopers received a report at about 6:30 p.m. that people were harassing a mountain goat on the south end of the Seward Harbor breakwater dike.

When troopers arrived, the goat wasn’t there. But they got another call about a half-hour later about the goat swimming in Resurrection Bay in front of the SeaLife Center.

“Investigation revealed a large amount of people followed the goat towards the SeaLife Center on the rocks resulting in the goat jumping back in to the water. The goat was unable to come back to the rocks due to the people standing on the rocks,” the troopers reported.

The goat ended up drowning. A boater recovered the animal and it was donated to charity, according to troopers.

O’Neill said she is heartbroken. She’s also angry about people who don’t obey the law by keeping their dogs on leashes, which she said contributed to the goat’s agitation.

The troopers didn’t mention anything about loose dogs but they do say that people “not giving the animal space and getting too close resulted in a wild animal dying for no cause.”

Most Alaskans know not to harass wildlife but visitors often don’t know the rules, O’Neill said. She would like companies that bring visitors to Alaska to do more public outreach about how to conduct oneself in the presence of wildlife. They could make an announcement aboard cruise ships, on the railroad, at motorhome rental outlets or airplanes before they land in Alaska, O’Neill suggested.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which does not have an office in Seward, does public outreach at schools, public events and through its printed and electronic materials about how the public should respond if they see a wild animal being harassed, and how to react if an unexpected wildlife encounter occurs.

“There’s a lot of common sense involved. You need to give wildlife their space,” said Ken Marsh, a Fish and Game spokesman.

“By getting too close you’re putting the animal in danger and yourself in danger,” he said.

Anyone who witnesses someone harassing wildlife should call Alaska Wildlife Troopers.