Outer Banks wild horses caught on video swimming from island to island seeking food

Swimming Shakleford Banks Horses

OUTER BANKS, NC (Mark Price/Charlotte Observer) - Cape Lookout National Seashore captured a rarely witnessed Outer Banks moment on video Friday, when three wild horses were spotted swimming from one island to another.

The video, posted Saturday on Facebook, shows two adults and a younger horse with their heads just above the waterline.

“These three Shackleford Banks horses (were) swimming out to a marsh island to graze,” explained the National Park Service on Facebook.

The video, viewed 32,000 times, was filmed Friday from a passenger ferry headed to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, one of the historic sites in the National Park, officials said.

“I was on this ferry and it was amazing to watch,” posted Jenny McCallum of Laurinburg, N.C., on Facebook. “(I) was worried about the baby, but he/she made it.”

The Shackleford Banks, a popular tourist destination, is home to 118 wild horses, one of the largest herds of “banker horses” on the North Carolina coast. The herd is believed by historians to be descended from horses brought to the New World by explorers 500 years ago.

Experts don’t completely understand how the horses endure hurricanes with apparent ease -- because humans evacuate the islands -- but it is suspected swimming is among the herds’ survival methods.

Last month, the Foundation for Shackleford Horses said it suspects one horse named Merlin was forced to swim to survive Hurricane Florence, after a quarantine site was flooded.

Herd staff evacuated before the hurricane hit, but officials said evidence suggested the fenced-in site was inundated with deep water for days, reported the Charlotte Observer.

Herd managers believe the feral mustangs’ instincts compel them to huddle together on high ground during storms or seek refuge in the dense maritime forest, the Observer reported.

After storms, the horses tend to migrate to different areas if their freshwater ponds get over washed by salt water, the National Park Service told the Observer.

Testing at Cape Lookout has shown those spring-fed ponds eventually return to fresh water, allowing the horses to migrate back over time, officials said.