A bald eagle on Canada’s west coast has learned that its eyes may be bigger than its stomach after it was nearly drowned by an octopus it tried to eat.
After hearing shrieks coming from the water on the north-western tip of Vancouver Island, employees at a fish farm investigating the noises happened upon a bird and cephalopod locked in battle.
The giant Pacific octopus, which had turned a deep crimson, had wound its tentacles tightly around the eagle, which was floating helplessly at the surface.
“At first we just watched and we didn’t know if we should interfere because, you know, it’s Mother Nature,” John Ilett, an employee at Mowi West Canada, told CTV News.
But realizing the eagle was likely to drown, the crew decided to intervene.
Ilett maneuvered a pike pole in the water to pull the octopus over to the boat. The crew managed to haul both aboard, disentangling the bird from the strong tentacles, before tossing the octopus back into the water.
“He deprived the poor octopus of a good meal,” joked Jennifer Mather, an octopus expert at the University of Lethbridge. Octopuses are generalist predators, said Mather, meaning they often seek out whatever food is nearby and edible.
“They’re quite wide in their prey choice,” she said, pointing to another recent incident on Vancouver Island where an octopus devoured a seagull. “If something is on the surface of the water, and the octopus is close to the surface of the water, it’s food.”
Giant Pacific octopus in the region can grow quite large, with some weighing as much as 115 pounds. But Mather cautioned that while the cephalopods can appear daunting in size, they are often incredibly shy, going into hiding when divers are nearby.
After the eagle was pried from its grasp, the octopus dove back into the depths, its colours subtly shifting from reddish to brown.
The shaken eagle perched warily on a nearby log before flying off.
“It was a very cool situation,” said Ilett. “I’ve been out here 20 years and that’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.”