Hornby Island Bald Eagle Cam -- Summary & Thanks to Doug & Sheila Carrick.
Little did I understand the implications of meeting Doug Carrick back in the fall of 2005. I was about to address a conservation meeting on Vancouver Island and our host, just as she was about to introduce me, called me aside and asked if I minded them permitting a gentleman to show some video he had taken of eagles on Hornby Island. I immediately said that would be wonderful and the next 15 minutes changed my life.
Immediately after Doug's video presentation I had a thousand questions as he vaulted out the door to catch ferries. Wow. Who was Doug Carrick? How had he gotten the camera into the eagles' nest to record these incredible sequences? Why if this was on his TV was it not out on the web? While our company had an active web presence I barely could do a search! The host said she had his phone number and I committed to this being tomorrow's first call.
About a week later, as fate would have it, I had planned a weekend meeting on nearby Denman Island to plan out the beginning and direction of the newly planned Hancock Wildlife Foundation. By initially passing through Denman Island I got the ferry to Hornby Island to meet Doug and track down another Hornby Island "Eagle Man". Yes two of them were on one island. I not just learned of Ben Kramer, the Eagle Man of Hornby, but dropped by Doug's house and met him and his lovely wife Sheila.
There in the living room sat a very old TV -- connected to a computer and with wires running across the yard, across the road and up an adjacent tree to an eagles' nest. Voila, on his TV was the 24 hour happenings of a pair of bald eagles, probably one of the most intimate views of bald eagles ever captured. Periodically Doug would press the record button to save a few minutes of this pair's intimate behaviors. His edited 15 minutes of this was the most intense and intimate view of nesting eagles I (and I suspect anyone in the world) had ever seen. The close-ups of nest building, of the groans of labor as the hen laid an egg, the details of turning the eggs every couple of hours -- this was all the intimate behavior denied we who looked up from the ground.
Within minutes I had asked Doug why he did not distribute these live images to the world via the web. He instantly replied he did not wish to undertake that effort and cost. If I wanted to do this then go ahead! Me? I knew almost nothing about the web except my company had been utilizing the web from the earliest years -- but through my good friend, David Ingram, and his techie friend, Richard Pitt. Within minutes I had Richard on the phone. "Sure, if he has signals coming into the house and he has a phone connection to the outside would it would be a snap!" Richard's comments rang excitedly in my ear -- though they proved a slight understatement! When I interrupted with - "But what will that cost me?" He said, "Probably about $2000 could see it out to the world". Wow -- we spend 10 times that publishing a small book. This might get science some new insight. "Lets do it.", I instantly replied. Five months, many a sleepless night and nearly $100,000 later we broadcast the intimate life of bald eagles live to the world. Over that first year, following over 100 live national and international interviews with all media, we actually had over 500,000,000 people tune into viewing our eagles.
There had been many a delay, and each intervention meant Richard had to travel three ferries to Hornby Island and three ferries back -- a full day's journey on his big motor bike or two day's travel if by car due to waiting in ferry line-ups. Most of the early problems revolved around the poor land line connections and their low bandwidth carrying potential. The later problems that plagued us -- how to serve simultaneous transmission to millions of people had never even been faced by the entire world -- but thank goodness we did not know the limits of the technology at that time or we probably would not have persevered.
All through these trials and tribulations, visit after visit, Doug and Sheila kept up a smile. Their pleasure of watching eagles was going to hopefully be shared by many. How many millions they, us or even the industry had no idea. Then after the first broadcasts working with failed hatchings etc. followed an even greater challenge. How to cope with the fame and questions. Thus we, the newly formed Hancock Wildlife Foundation, and our quickly evolving group of volunteers, became hosts to an incredibly active Discussion Forum.
The initial worry that poor Hornby Island and its privacy seeking residents would be inundated by lookie-loos simply never happened. It was interesting that nobody actually went to Doug's place of residence to view the eagles until a couple of years later when Doug personally invited 3 people from Europe to come. The pressure came because Doug and I wanted to allow full discussion about the eagles, their lives and struggles. We opened up an incredible Forum for this discussion. At the same time we unleashed the unfettered emotions of thousands of viewers. These were the raw emotions of viewing eagles killing their prey, of eagles not hatching, of others nearly dying of starvation, of another ultimately dying of disease on the nest. Doug particularly felt the need to respond to any and every question or, on occasion, accusation of 'not intervening' which to some viewers meant 'not caring'. At the same time millions witnessed the tenderness of brooding exchanges, as the male replaced the female for incubation duties, or how sticks were so carefully intertwined into the nest by the male for structure -- only to be removed by the female minutes later for replacement in another location, or how tender and delicate a newly hatched eaglet was, and how Ma would hold her wings out to protect the small eaglets from rain. This brought new words into our language - "Ma was doing the Mumbrella".
Perhaps even more powerful were the discussions and passion about "should some chick be instantly rescued -- or should it be allowed to possibly starve?" -- only to find enough food to grow and finally fledge as its siblings did. The debates were passionate. Objective science ultimately prevailed and most were pleased and satisfied. Our only intervention was when a nestling eaglet was caught in a piece of fishing line in the nest and was probably, after 6 days, going to perish. We performed a rescue as was appropriate since this was really a 'human-induced' tragedy that only a human could undo.
A small issue among a few individuals occasionally arose to waring levels and our moderators, a group of incredibly dedicated souls, would intervene and hold court or delete inflammatory statements. In short, flaming, religion and politics were not discussed. And really the discussions ultimately got back to discussion of eagle behavior and how our sustainable world was or was not working well. After 6 years of providing these live streaming sites I must say that the attitudes of followers has been exemplary, the questions forever inquisitive and informative. What a great pleasure to have been associated with this whole educational media -- the distribution of live streaming videos. None of this would have happened without Doug and all the volunteers who supported the site. Thanks to you all.
After the third year Doug and Sheila had plans to sell their incredible waterfront house and move to a bigger town on Vancouver Island, Chemainus. This was going to terminate our eagle cam stream. As luck would have it, bad for Doug, the housing market had just plummeted and the house sale got no offers. Doug stayed and the eagles got another year. At this restart-up Doug decided to undertake the streaming directly through our distributor Wild Earth and not via the HWF. All went well except it turns out found he was too thinned-skinned to put up with the immediate support groups' demands and he and they parted company. He then phoned me to re-initiate the stream through the Hancock Wildlife Foundation which we willingly did. Then the unexpected. Doug found the questions and pressure from his old group simply too much and he decided that he and Sheila did not need this disruption to their retirement years and he pulled the plug. He gentlemanly called me first and even returned the expenses we had covered to get his cams cleaned. "I didn't feel right you paying for this and me (Doug) being the only person being able to see the eagles." Doug -- we all miss the Hornby Eagles but fully we realize that your privacy and peace of mind is paramount. The world owes you a debt of gratitude for introducing so many to the intimate lives of our beloved eagles. Thanks again.
Doug, I know this is your 22nd or 23rd year of following this pair of eagles and we would welcome you to post any observations to keep our many viewers up to date on the world's most famous pair of bald eagles.
Background -- ads or no ads:
Some people thought that with all the viewers and ads that we must be making lots of money. Nothing could be farther from the truth. During the first 3 years we did not receive a single cent from any advertiser. We were initially supported by my company, Hancock House Publishers, and then the emerging volunteers and viewer-donors.
Certainly the distributors of our signals received ad dollars but, since both companies who distributed our signals went bankrupt, I was only thankful our liability was limited to placing the cams, keeping them going and delivering a signal to the distributors. They had to worry about the costs of the bandwidth.
Then on the 4th year the technology of the business changed. The advertising world recognized streaming video as a 'media' outlet and a few dollars were devoted by some mainstream advertisers to streaming video ads. In the previous year it was not even yet possible to insert ads into the live stream -- that technology had yet to be developed. But here is where our little experiment starting on Hornby Island may have just jump-started an entire industry, by showing that over 500 million people watching a live streaming video of eagles MIGHT be indicative of some new direction for both industry and science. And of course we know where the industry has gone: every TV, radio and newspaper instantly set up streaming sites, thousands of individuals set up their own sites showing the personal lives of live of hummingbirds on their doorstep. Then scientists started to see how streaming videos and portable cams could contribute to their understanding of their favorite animals. Today, just 6 years after we introduced 500 million people to live eagles, thousands of scientists, media outlets and individuals are broadcasting live streams on every topic imaginable -- and some that were not imaginable -- or perhaps desirable!!
Our live eagle cams and then our underwater cams were not the first such live broadcasts but they seem to have been the first to catch the entire world's attention. Perhaps the day we hit the news with our live stream was a "low news day" in the world or maybe, as I prefer to think, it was the eagles that captured the world's imagination as they had done in my life for over 50 years.
So back to Doug and Sheila and the Hornby Island eagles. Doug unfortunately had a personality split with some of his followers, the same group who had left our site a couple of years earlier. However it was you, Doug, who set a fire under the world of streaming videos, or at least between us we blew enough hot air onto the topic to ignite a flame. So again, Doug, thanks for opening up another world to so many of us.