Officials plan for return of Kodiak eagles

Article published on Monday, January 28th, 2008
Mirror Writer

After a brief vacation to the Mainland where they have been fed, bathed, blow-dried and generally pampered, many of the eagles that made pigs of themselves in the back of an Ocean Beauty Seafoods gurry truck filled with two feet of fish guts, will spend Valentine’s Day back in Kodiak with their eagle mates.

Gary Wheeler, manager of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, said he expects some of the eagles to return within the next couple of weeks to join the other estimated 500 eagles that reside in the City of Kodiak.

One is unlikely to return.

In anticipation of their return and release in Kodiak, volunteers at the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage, are taking the birds outside and getting them acclimated to the cold.

“The last one to be fed was an immature male who had gained back his weight and was looking good and strong,” BTLC volunteer Dave Dorsey said. “He caught the volunteer off guard and got out of his kennel.”

As workers ran outside with blankets to help corral the eagle, that perched on the kennel with a piece of salmon in his talons, he flew off and disappeared from sight.

“(The volunteer) said it climbed, dived and climbed beautifully until out of sight,” Dorsey said. “I guess it was his time to go.”

When the other eagles are released in Kodiak, it will be an educational experience.

“It’s our intent to make (the release) a public event,” Wheeler said. “We’ll probably involve some of the schools as well. There will probably be several releases. We don’t expect them all back at the same time.”

Wheeler didn’t expect when the 50 bald eagles made their ill-fated plunge, it would result in a flurry of questions from people across the nation.

There were plenty of questions from local residents, as well.

Has this happened before?

Why were they all male?

Would they be retuned to Kodiak?

What happed to the dead eagles?

Making the best of a bad situation, Wheeler used the tragic event to help educate the public on eagle habits by hosting an eagle presentation at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center, given by wildlife biologist Brandon Saito.

They started with a rundown of the day’s events leading up to the eagle fish-gut bath.

It turns out the call to Ocean Beauty wasn’t their first eagle call of the day.

“It’s unusual to get more than two calls (a day),” Saito said.

That day they received four.

The first call wildlife officials responded to was an eagle electrocution, not an uncommon event in Kodiak.

“The eagles are electrocuted when they land on unprotected power poles,” Saito said.

Wildlife officials have been working with the electric company to gradually minimize electrocution incidents by installing raptor safe devices.

“Generally, the newer power lines that are built are built to those standards,” Wheeler said. “The problem is the older lines built years ago need to be retrofitted. There was more of a problem in Kodiak 10 years ago.”

Another leading cause of eagle fatalities is run-ins with cars, and that was what officials responded to on their second call.

“Eagles can easily get distracted,” Saito said.

The eagle wildlife officials rescued had a head injury and was shipped along with the slimed eagles to the BTLC and will return to Kodiak when the BTLC deems he is ready for release.

The third call of the day wildlife officials responded to was a false alarm, and only served to keep officials on edge.

They needed that edge on the fourth call, with what local wildlife officials are calling “Eagle Call No. 4, Wildlife Pandemonium,” also the title of their presentation Friday night.

Saito said that on that fateful fourth call, while responding to an eagle-in-distress call from a concerned citizen who reported seeing a slimy eagle near Ocean Beauty Seafoods, plant workers called and said they had at least 13 eagles in the back of their truck.

The full extent of the problem wasn’t realized until the trunk dropped the contents of the truck onto the plant floor.

“The stench of fish guts was heavy,” said Saito, one of the wildlife officials to respond. “Eagles went scurrying for whatever cover they could find.”

After wrangling the eagles, wildlife officials brought them to the refuge center’s maintenance warehouse for cleaning and later shipped them to Anchorage.

Now they are being prepared for their return to Kodiak.

Saito said the truck driver, after pulling out of the plant, went to close the plant door before closing the top of the truck, to stop heat from escaping from the plant.

In that short time, the eagles began diving into the truck.

Ocean Beauty Seafoods officials said they are reviewing and strengthening their policy.

Other causes of eagle deaths in Kodiak include tangles in fishnets and poisoning at the city dump. Although eagles have been known to be shot around the country, Wheeler said that’s not a problem in Kodiak.

Mirror writer Ralph Gibbs can be reach via e-mail at

Copied from the Kodiak Daily Mirror.