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Onlookers helpless as moose calf swept to sea

Posted: Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Mother nature is not always motherly; sometimes she treats her offsprings as indifferently as stepchildren in a marriage of inconvenience.

Ma nature flaunted her indifference during a small Darwinian tragedy that played out Sunday morning as a moose cow tried to chaperone her calf across the mouth of the Kenai River.

Half a dozen campers watched from Beluga Lookout RV Park on the bluff above the north bank of the river as the calf tried to follow its mom and swim across the current to the south bank.

The calf, which appeared to have been born this season, had trouble fighting the current. About halfway across, the calf seemed to panic and turned back, only to change its mind again and try to swim across to its mother, who was waiting on the other side.

"He didn't know which way to go," said Linda Ross, one of the campers who watched from the bluff. "The baby just didn't have the strength to go through the current to get to the other side."

Ross and her husband came up from Texas to fish the commercial season with friends who live in Kenai and were staying at the park.

To make matters worse, the tide in Cook Inlet was going out and taking the calf with it.

"The little thing kept drifting further and further away," Ross said.

At one point, the calf almost made it onto the mud flat exposed by the outgoing tide. But eventually, even with binoculars, Ross could no longer see the calf's head bobbing in the outgoing current.

"It was pretty sad survival of the fittest and all that stuff," she said. "It was one of those things that unfolded and you knew what the end was going to be, but you wish it wouldn't turn out that way."

Park owner Jerry Dunn tried calling the Department of Fish and Game to see if anything could be done to rescue the calf, but their offices were closed, since it was Sunday, and he only got a recording.

Dunn said he's often seen moose calves cross the mouth of the Kenai, such as the two calves that successfully crossed the river with their mothers around noon Sunday. However, the two calves appeared to be yearlings, so were bigger and stronger than the little calf that didn't make it.

Sunday morning was the first time Dunn had seen a moose of any age get swept into the inlet, he said.

The cow refused to give up looking for her offspring long after the RV-park onlookers lost track of the calf in the waters of the inlet.

"The mother hung out all day. She was wandering up and down the beach looking in the water," said Dunn. "You could tell she was looking for her calf."



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