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For Eagles, Food is all About Survival; It's Wrong to Allow Them to be Baited

Point of View / Homer News / March 13, 2005

Since January, several photography groups have visited the Homer Spit to do as one photography group leader, Greg Downing, states on his Web site, "You can expect to get insanely close to these eagles, providing unprecedented opportunities to make up-close images, which would otherwise be impossible anywhere else in the wild." (The "wild" of Homer Spit?)

With that mindset and their cry of "eagle feeding is not illegal," they do their best to make this fantasy come true. Not content to sit passively in their rented SUVs from Anchorage, in Jean Keene's morning feeding station where they must behave themselves, stay in their vehicles and not disturb the birds, they set out to create their own brand of eagle baiting to get "insanely close to them."

You can find these eagle baiters on the Spit beaches, city parking lots and the Homer Boat Dock tossing fish waste and sticking their huge telephoto lenses up the eagle's nose. They crawl on their hands and knees toward the juvenile eagles like storm troopers.

What if the temperature is 0 and the wind chill minus 12, with a strong, freezing wind blowing? They spent an afternoon baiting the eagles in a city parking lot, and they are dressed in their finest winter survival gear, hot drinks in hand, ducking into their warm rented SUVs when necessary to avoid wind chill. They keep the shivering eagles warm by occasionally tossing them a piece of frozen herring to get them to move and fly closer, so the humans can have them right next to them as they shoot them with a telephoto lens.

For the next week, these eagle return daily to this parking lot for their human treats before they realize they have been tricked again. They sit in the high winds and rain, waiting while those humans are now well on their way back home.

Another group from England went to the Land's End beach at 4 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. There were 12 eagles around the area. The group leader tossed a frozen "fish-sicle" and in about 15 minutes, attracted 150 eagles. The eagles and gulls fought and dove over the water for the show as photographers angled at the water's edge to get the "best shot."

On another day, the baiter had only a few fish out of the box to toss and when he was done, 150 eagles sat on the beach staring at the group as they left to go back to the hotel for their evening meal, tricking the eagles again. They don't know that for the eagles, eating and getting food to survive is a serious business and not a game.

The same group at the beach recently created an eagle-seagull frenzy with their baiting. One juvenile eagle, missing a seagull, crashed into the water. The juvenile eagle, bobbed in the water staring at the group of eight photographers on the water's edge. The eagle, not being a duck, is not able to fly out of the water with his wet wings and body. He might have attempted to do a limited "butterfly" stroke to shore if it weren't for the humans there at the waterline.

The warm-blooded eagle, in 38-degree water, simply disappeared. All the photographers, except for one, were still baiting and watching the aerial show. The one photographer watching the eagle struggle just stared.

Yes, this is the only place in the world where humans can get "this insanely close to these eagles," but the real insanity is that we let these people do this, make big money, tell us that it's OK to bait eagles because they bait orioles with oranges (probably next to a freeway), smile and say, "See you fools next year."

Lee Mayhan is coordinator of the Alaska Eagle Watch Network, an organization dedicated to keeping Alaska's wildlife wild.
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