Thursday, February 24, 2022
Big Pine Key is known for its Key Deer, a subspecies of the white-tailed deer, that lives only in the Keys. Centuries ago, they migrated to the Florida Keys from the mainland during the most recent glacial period, at least 11,000 years ago. They were a food source for native tribes, sailors and settlers in the Keys. Hunting them was banned in 1939, but they nearly became extinct. The National Key Deer Refuge was established in 1957, when the population plummeted to about 25. Currently, the population is estimated to be between 700 – 800.
Most of the Key Deer are on Big Pine Key, which, unlike the other Keys, has a good natural source of fresh water. Generally, fresh water is brought by pipeline for the residents and visitors. Not all of the deer live within the refuge, they are common in the residential areas as well, and are generally unafraid of humans. The prime human threat comes from car traffic – up to 100 per year are killed by car.
These small deer stand about 28 – 32 inches in height, and weight around 80 pounds. White-tailed deer in Minnesota can be almost 48 inches in height, and weigh up to 150 pounds. To us, they look only a little bigger than fauns.
We walked several paths in the refuge, but had no luck spotting any deer. In hot weather, they prefer to stay in the shade, and venture out in the evening. We walked to the Blue Hole, which is an abandoned limestone quarry. There is plenty of evidence that the deer do come here to drink. Although there were no deer in sight, we did spot an alligator, some birds and butterflies.
Somewhat disappointed, we left the refuge to head back to Key West. Just before we reached the highway, Mark spotted a deer on the side of the road. We pulled over and watched it for a few minutes while it watched us. Mission accomplished!!
There is a white blimp that floats over Cudjoe Key. Called ”Fat Albert” by the locals, it has been in place for 33 years, was put there as part of a low-level surveillance system by the US Army. In 2013, it came under the management of US Customs and Border Protection, which uses it to keep an eye on Cuba, the Florida Straits and the Gulf of Mexico. We drove down Blimp Road, hoping to get closer to the blimp, but the site is closed to the public. Oh well!
This evening, we took a sunset sail, actually a wine-tasting sail, with Danger Charters, that included the sunset over Key West. We sampled eight different wines, and needless to say, the evening was very mellow. Due to clouds, we didn’t actually see the sun set, but the sky was beautiful anyway.