KODIAK, Alaska – At least 19 bald eagles died Friday after gorging themselves on a truck full of fish waste outside a processing plant.
Fifty or more eagles swarmed into the truck, whose retractable fabric cover was open, after the truck was moved outside the plant, said Brandon Saito, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who coordinated the recovery operation.
The birds became too soiled to fly or clean themselves, and with temperatures in the mid-teens, 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. Some tried to scatter, but since they couldn't fly, wildlife officers soon retrieved them. The eagles were then cleaned with dish soap in tubs of warm water to remove the oily slime and warm them.
The survivors were taken to a heated fish and wildlife warehouse to recover, though some were in critical condition. Saito said they would be released as soon as they were dry and strong enough.
The dead birds will be shipped to a U.S. Department of Interior clearinghouse, where Native American groups could apply to be given the birds or their feathers for ceremonial purposes.
Requests for interviews from Ocean Beauty officials were not returned.
Commercial fishing is the main industry in Kodiak, a city of about 6,000 on Kodiak Island on the south coast of Alaska.