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Eagle’s Opportunistic Nature Gets Them In Trouble


From the Seattle Times:

ANCHORAGE — Most of the 30 bald eagles who survived a disastrous dive into a truck full of fish guts are close to recovery, said officials at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.

Two birds have died, but most of the remaining may soon be released.

Another 20 eagles died Friday after dozens swarmed an uncovered truck full of fish waste outside a processing plant in Kodiak, Alaska.

The birds became too soiled to fly or clean themselves, and with temperatures in the midteens, began to succumb to the cold. Some birds became so weak they sank into the fish slime and were crushed.

The truck’s contents had to be dumped onto the floor of the Ocean Beauty Seafoods plant so the birds could be retrieved.

Workers from the seafood plant and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service washed the birds in dishwashing soap to help remove the fish oil. The birds spent the night drying out in a warehouse space, Gary Wheeler of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge told the Anchorage Daily News.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers are investigating the incident.

Eagles are protected under federal law and killing them is a crime.

It is still to early to determine what penalties, if any, the seafood company may face, said Kim Speckman, a special agent who is part of the investigation.

Officers consider numerous factors looking into incidents such as this, including intent, she said.

“It’s pretty obvious in this case nobody intended to break the law,” Speckman said. The seafood plant has been very responsive and cooperative, she said.


Era Aviation and Alaska Airlines are bringing the birds from Kodiak to Anchorage so they can be cleaned and cared for by the Bird Treatment and Learning Center before being returned to the wild.

Six of the eagles arrived on afternoon flights Sunday and 12 more were expected on evening flights, said Cindy Palmatier, director of avian care at the center.

The rest of the birds should arrive on flights today, said Gary Wheeler, manager of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, which has been caring for the birds since Friday’s bizarre episode at the Ocean Beauty Seafoods plant in Kodiak.

Twenty bald eagles died when about 50 of the birds dived into an uncovered dump truck filled with fish guts.

Most of the dead birds were drowned or crushed in the gooey substance, which one wildlife official in Kodiak likened to quicksand. Two died later Friday night, but the rest appear to be getting better, Wheeler said.

“They’re getting a little feisty now,” he said. “They’re feeling their oats, for sure, so you can tell they’re feeling better. They’re more perky. They’re wanting to fly.”

Wheeler said wildlife workers in Kodiak planned to wash the eagles again this weekend when a bird biologist with the International Bird Rescue and Research Center recommended sending the birds to the rescue center in Anchorage instead.

“The folks there have more expertise,” Wheeler said. “This is the first time since the Exxon Valdez oil spill that we’ve had to handle this many birds. We’ve kind of improvised.”

No one’s certain where the eagles will be released once they have recovered.

The city of Kodiak — home to about 500 eagles, Wheeler said — would like them back. But the logistics of flying the eagles back to Kodiak — three on this flight, five on that flight, until all 30 have made the trip — could mean they’re released in Anchorage, Palmatier said.

At least there’s no rush to determine the birds’ fates. The eagles are likely to remain at the recovery center for at least two weeks, Palmatier said.

If bird lovers want to help, she added, they can do so in two ways — by donating salmon (frozen is fine; processed is not) or cash.

The salmon will help keep the eagles fed and the money will help pay for the center’s utility bills, which are expected to soar as high as an eagle with so many birds to take care of.

Workers at the center cranked up the heat this weekend to between 75 and 80 degrees to keep the eagles warm, and it will use a lot of hot water in the coming days to wash and rinse the birds.

Keeping the birds warm is as important as getting them clean, Palmatier said, because the birds can’t stay warm by themselves with feathers soiled by oily fish guts.

“They don’t have a lot of thermal regulation because of the oil,” she said. “They’re very cold.”

And stinky.

“It’s a new form of aromatherapy,” Palmatier said with a laugh as she described the scene at the center. “It smells very fishy.”

What I want to know is, what made the eagles fly into the tank? Most birds have a poorly developed sense of smell, but were the eagles able to smell the fish oil? When the first bird got in and stuck, did that activity to get out attract more eagles? Are they able to see the fish oil in the ultra violet spectrum and that’s what attracted them to the chum? Has anything like this happened before? I wonder if this has happened with birds people don’t care about like double crested cormorants but because it was a few dozen bald eagles this time it gets media attention? I’m curious to see where this goes.

I also think that’s it’s speaks volumes about the company that it helped get the eagles out by dumping the nasty contents onto the factory floor and the workers helped clean the eagles.

Also, that’s a whole lotta birds for a rehab center to get in all at once. If anyone has a spare few bucks, you might consider sending a little to the Bird Treatment and Learning Center. Given the daily readership here, if only a third of us gave $5 bucks, that would be a good size donation towards fish purchases.

17 comments to Eagle’s Opportunistic Nature Gets Them In Trouble

  • Carey

    That’s so sad :( But, I don’t see how the fish trunk could of possibly foresaw this.

  • looney

    Is it wrong that I laughed until the fish oil spurted from my nose?

  • Clive's World

    I saw this article and it just broke my heart. I agree with Carey in that it was probably not foreseeable and just poor judgment or a mistake.

  • Maureen

    While it’s sad about the eagles, I don’t see that the fish company did this intentionally.

    The photo is pretty amusing. Those eagles look like a bunch of frat-party-gone-wrong survivors.

  • Dawn

    Hi sharon,

    I cannot give you a source but I have read that the fish processing plants in alaska are home to hundreds of eagles. there was a story not long ago, about how a few years ago the fish plants thought they could just let the eagles have all the leftover fish guts. but quickly found out that the guts were being strewn all over the city, over cars etc. so they banned the fish plants from just dumping the waste, and they had to have a cover over the trucks to keep the birds out. sorry I do not have any references, though living in the PNW we do get plenty of news from alaska.

  • Island Rambles Blog

    I am very saddened by this news as our bald eagle count is way down this year and our salmon runs were low….I love your site and will link to it and put it in my birding carnival postings, cheers from ocean.

  • spacedlaw

    I don’t think these eagles will ever want to get close to a fish anymore.

  • Anonymous

    When I first read the story, I was tired, and thought the headline had said at least 50 Eagle scouts had died in Alaska.
    I thought it was children. Then realized it was eagle ealge’s.
    Who knows ? I seen a robin drown itself when my grandfather left out treated water for his plants. He just dumped the bird and out used the same water for his tomato plants. It might have posioned it self as well. I put something over the bucket after that. Know if I can only keep mourning doves out of my garage so they won’t die. Not hitting the windows, just getting in the garage with an open door the entire time and dying.

  • Anonymous

    Ok, maybe I am more of a cynic, but…it seems to me that a fish processing company must regularly have truckloads of fish guts so why has this not been an issue before? Most likely because the trucks containing fish parts are supposed to be covered.
    And, if in fact there is a law/regulation that the trucks must be covered, and this one was not, then it seems to me that this company is certainly to blame for the deaths of many eagles, which are still protected birds. I do not have so much sympathy for this company – yes, it is admirable that the workers helped to rescue the eagles however, this seems to me an avoidable tragedy, rather an careless mistake.

  • Anonymous

    I volunteer at the Cobequid Wildlife Rehab Centre in Nova Scotia, and we got two juvenile bald eagles this year who had found their way into containers of fish oil. Not real clear how it happened; the birds managed to get out of the container and had limited flight ability, evading capture until they became too weak from lack of food. Washing and dealing with those two birds was a handful; I can’t imagine trying to do this many!


  • Susan Gets Native

    Who knows why animals do what they do? But I love that company for trying so hard to help.
    Dave and his posse up there in Alaska do great work, so I reiterate Sharon’s plea: Send some cash or some salmon. Raptor and other wildlife rehabs usually are non-profits and need as much help as can be provided. Give early, and give often!
    Dave does a nice blog (click on the link in the post for Bird TLC). He has pictures of the eagles they have admitted. Go visit!

  • Trixie

    Thirteen birds arrived off the evening plane from Kodiak today. Twelve were from the tragic accident and one was from a car/bird collision.

    Please do send money (and salmon) to Bird TLC, they could use it.

  • Ecobirder

    The original article in the Anchorage Daily News had a little bit more info then the AP story that you posted. According to the ADN article the 50 eagles were watching and waiting outside the seafood plant for an easy meal. I think that most people would notice 50 eagles hanging around and would think to close the trucks retractable cloth cover. Also in the AND article it states that the contents of the truck were dumped on the garage floor, not factory, and that employees only helped to pull the eagles out of the mess. It was employees of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge that where the ones who actually did the cleaning of the eagles. So if the ADN article is accurate, which is probably more likely then they AP since they are an Alaskan paper, then I would not be so generous of praise for the seafood company.

    As far as why the eagles flew into the tank that is simple it was an easy meal. According to the ADN article it sounds like the problem was too many eagles. As the eagles flocked to the free food they pushed those that were in front of them down into the mess and they got sucked under. It is extremely sad and I hope that the seafood company pays for their neglect. If they pay then perhaps they, and other seafood companies, will learn from it and prevent this type of thing from happening again.

  • amelia

    I wonder where those fish guts were headed? For our food perhaps? Fish cakes, fish fingers??????

  • Dave

    Thanks for the shout Birdchick, it is deeply appreciated. Fifty eagles waiting outside an Alaskan fish processing plant is not unusual. Fifty attacking a fish gut truck is. We are a 501(c)3 non-profit and the 30 eagles are over half of our yearly eagle intake.

    Ocean Beauty Seafood made a mistake but are doing their best to make it right.

    Thanks everyone for your support!

  • Carrie

    I will be happy to send a donation – however, since the Eagle is our National Bird, I see no reason why our Government shouldn’t be stepping up in helping take care of them.

    I just took a few moments time to contact a Senator that I personally know – although he’s from Illinois – asking if there could be some kind of federal aid with this problem.

    I suggest contacting Senators in your state, or looking up Reps, Congressmen and Senators in Alaska and ask for help from the Government to take care of these glorious birds.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for bringing this article to my attention. We have lots of bald eagles in Vancouver (Canada) but I’ve certainly never seent them exhibit this kind of “gang” behaviour. Regardless of whose fault it is, these usually regal (admittedly funny photo notwithstanding) need help now. I’ll be call Bird TLC to donate some Canuck bucks :-).