ALASKA-BASED processor Ocean Beauty Seafoods LLC has expressed the "profound regrets" of everyone in its organisation after around 20 bald eagles died as a result of attempting to feed on a truckload of fish waste.
The birds died after diving into the truck at a processing plant on Friday. They were reportedly covered with fish oil and froze to death in the cold weather. Rescuers managed to save 28 eagles.
The processor said this week in a statement that it is doing "everything in its power" to ensure that the surviving birds get all available care.
"About 28 birds were rescued, and their prospects look good," said Gary Wheeler of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. Wildlife workers in Kodiak were originally going to continue to care for the birds, but a bird biologist with the International Bird Rescue Research Centre recommend sending the birds to the rescue center in Anchorage instead. "The folks there have more expertise," Wheeler said.
So far Ocean Beauty has donated $5,000 to the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage, to assist with the cost of care and heating fuel to keep the centre at the needed temperature for the eagles' rehabilitation. "We are working to do everything within our means to help with the care and recuperation of the eagles, and intend to see this through until the birds are released back into the wild," said Ocean Beauty President Mark Palmer.
Ocean Beauty is also sending fish to the centre to feed the birds during their stay. In addition to these donations for the Anchorage centre, Ocean Beauty said it is giving $2,000 each to three other raptor centres in Alaska.
"We can't bring them back to life, but we will do all we can to help these magnificent eagles have the best chance of survival in the wild all across Alaska," said Palmer.
Ocean Beauty has operated its Kodiak plant for over 40 years, and this is the first incident of substantial bird interference and death in that time. The truck in question was leaving Ocean Beauty's Kodiak facility en route to the Kodiak fishmeal plant, where Ocean Beauty has taken fish waste for nearly 30 years. Ocean Beauty said that all of its standard procedures for this waste transfer were followed, which include covering the load for the journey to the meal plant. This procedure has been to pull the trailer with the waste out of the plant, then cover while still in the driveway. In this case the birds went to the waste trailer before the cover could be applied.
"Our procedures have been strengthened over time, to include covering the loads," says Palmer, "but clearly they need further strengthening. 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 the federal, state, and local authorities, and will craft these new standards and procedures using their input."
Ocean Beauty Seafoods LLC has been in the Alaska seafood industry for nearly 100 years, and is one of Alaska's largest seafood processors, operating seven shore side plants across Alaska.
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