By Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News Group
A popular resident of North Whidbey is tangled up in blue.
A blue tarp, that is.
Bruiser, the sole elk inhabitant of Whidbey Island, has once again gotten something wrapped up in his antlers. It’s happened repeatedly since the intrepid bull elk swam to Whidbey Island in September 2012, according to Ralph Downes, an enforcement officer with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Lindsey George, a teacher at Oak Harbor Intermediate School, spotted Bruiser’s predicament and got photos on the night of Feb. 26. She lives in the Strawberry Point neighborhood and sees him about once a week.
George said she is worried about the elk with the tarp wrapped in his large antlers. Bruiser kept flipping his head, pawing at the ground and making grunting noises. Sometimes the tarp blocked his vision. She was able to get within 20 yards.
“He seemed to be stressed out,” she said.
Over the years, Bruiser has been seen with a horse blanket, lawn ornaments, barbed wire, electric fence ribbon and bicycles stuck in his antlers.
“My favorite was a pink bicycle,” Downes said.
Two years ago, Fish and Wildlife officers had to tranquilize Bruiser to remove a swing of thick rope with a mooring buoy. Downes said they will only do that as a last resort because of the danger tranquilizers pose to ruminants, including elk.
Downes isn’t too concerned with the latest entanglement. He expects that the bull elk will retreat to the woods, where the tarp will get caught up in branches and eventually be pulled off.
Downes explained that Bruiser’s antlers are getting heavy this time of year and he is trying to hasten the shedding process. The antlers should fall off within the next month, he said.
“It’s the time of year he can’t resist,” he said. “He keeps putting them in silly places.”
Besides the annual snarl, life is pretty good for the lone elk, Downes said. While being confined to an island is not quite captivity, Bruiser doesn’t have to face any of the dangers that shorten bull elk’s lives in the wilderness, not the least of which is fighting with other males. Cars are his only predator.
Many Whidbey residents, however, have more existential concerns for Bruiser. They worry that he’s lonely and suggest that he should be moved off the island or a companion brought in.
But Downes points out that the natural life of male elks in the wild can be somewhat solitary, so Bruiser’s existence may not be that out of the ordinary. It’s during the rut when elk become more social and he may be craving companionship.
The elk’s antlers will continue to grow bigger and more grand each year, Downes said, until they reach a plateau and then regress. Bruiser could live as long as 20 years, he said.
As for George, she continues to keep an eye out for Bruiser, as other residents do the same. She said they share sightings and stories through the Nextdoor app.
Her students will also be considering Bruiser and his blue tarp. George said she’s going to show her class photos she took and have them write narrative essays on how they think the tarp got stuck in his antlers.
This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.