Eagles Recovering After Plunge in Fish Guts

20 birds die from dousing
Article published on Monday, Jan 14th, 2008
Kodiak Daily Mirror Writer

Gary Wheeler from the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Center said today that 17 of the bald eagles that survived an ill-fated dive into the back of an Ocean Beauty Seafoods fish waste truck were flown to the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage.

The remaining 13 of the 50 eagles that dived into the truck on Friday are to be flown to Anchorage later today. Twenty eagles died.

Wildlife workers in Kodiak had planned to wash the eagles again, but a bird biologist with International Bird Rescue recommended sending the birds to the treatment center in Anchorage.

The birds were flown to Anchorage via Era Aviation and Alaska Airlines over the weekend.

Cindy Palmatier, director of avian care at the Anchorage rescue center said the eagles would probably remain at the center for about two weeks before being released.

Although Wheeler hoped the eagles could be returned to Kodiak for release, Palmatier said logistics might make it necessary to release the birds in Anchorage.

Wheeler, who has been in Kodiak for about a year, said he’s heard of eagles getting into fish waste trucks before, but not this many at once.

“This is a much more involved incident than we’ve seen in the past,” Wheeler said. “I think we’ve had a few deaths in the past, but incidents have been few and far between. There has not been this number of birds affected here in Kodiak since the Exxon Valdez oil spill.”

The incident occurred when a truck belonging to Ocean Beauty Seafoods fish processing plant was preparing for a trip to the Kodiak fishmeal plant.

As the truck pulled out of the plant, approximately 50 eagles plunged in after the fish waste.

According to a press release issued by Ocean Seafoods, “All of Ocean Beauty’s standard procedures for this waste transfer were followed, which include covering the load for the journey to the meal plant.”

Brandon Saito, a biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and head of the recovery operation, said the truck’s fabric cover was not yet closed when the truck temporarily moved outside the plant.

Mark Palmer, president of Ocean Beauty, said in the press release issued Jan. 12 that the company is reviewing procedures.

“Our procedures have been strengthened over time to include covering the loads, but clearly they need further strengthening,” Palmer said. “We are in the process of reviewing and changing these procedures to ensure that such an incident never happens again. We are in dialogue with federal, state, and local authorities, and will craft these new standards and procedures using their input.”

Saito said after the eagles plunged into the back of the truck, they became so covered in fish waste that they could not fly or clean themselves. With temperatures in the mid-teens, about 18 either succumbed to the cold or became so weak they collapsed and were trampled and crushed by the surviving birds.

To recover the birds, the truck driver dumped the truck’s contents on the floor of the plant.

Plant workers and Fish and Wildlife officials then retrieved and cleaned the eagles with dish soap in tubs of warm water. The survivors were taken to a heated Fish and Wildlife warehouse to recover.

Two additional bald eagles died overnight.

The dead eagles will be shipped to a U.S. Department of Interior clearinghouse where Native American groups can apply for the bird feathers for ceremonial purposes.

Kim Speckman, a special agent who is part of the investigation, said it’s still too early to determine if any penalties will be issued.

“It’s pretty obvious in this case nobody intended to break the law,” Speckman said.

Palmatier said that if anyone wants to help, they can donate fresh or frozen salmon or cash.

Processed salmon is not accepted.

The salmon will be used to feed the eagles and any cash donated will be used to offset the rescue center’s utility bill, which is expected to increase.

To help the eagles recover, rescue workers had to crank up the heat to between 75 and 80 degrees. They will also use a lot of hot water to wash and rinse the birds.

Reference Link: http://www.kodiakdailymirror.com/?pid=19&id=5686

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