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Follow your favorite Bald Eagle across North America!

Naming the animal subjects of a scientific study was total taboo. Your dog could be Cuddles or Snoopy, your cat even Tom and Jerry, but no scientist would dare give such a demeaning human name to a wild subject. Designating a human-type name to a wild creature in a scientific study could mean you were in great danger of implying this wild creature had some elevated senses. Scientists were to be above suggesting wild animals could display human feelings and giving them a name was getting uncomfortably close. A numbered animal was just that, an impersonal statistic. Number 10472 could only be a statistic, not something you could personally identify with, not something you get all confusingly wrapped up in feelings that animals so obviously did not have!

Then once again science made a leap over scientists. In the 1400s the dentition of horses was resolved by a philosophical discussion about the topic around a conference table. Voila – the big jump into modern science came when the dentition was based on simply opening the horse’s mouth and ‘counting the teeth’! Each time scientists – or humanity – get passed the concerns of self-importance or saving personal non-truths, science and society advances.

In 1957 at 23 years of age Jane Goodall went to Africa and the world gained new roots. In 1965 Jane received her PhD studying the behavior of Fife, David Graybeard and others. Commonsense and the widening of scientific perspective took hold. The obvious hugging, touching and reprimands of her chimpanzee subjects took on obvious human meanings that jumped behavioral science immediately forward. That primates had human behaviors was a sigh of relief – opening up animal behavior to more articulate description. Observers could now state that the chimp using a stick to dig out honey or bugs from a hole, the crow trimming down a branch to make a probe small enough to access a narrow crack to obtain some meat, the fish carrying a cockle 30 meters to a favorite rock where it could pound it and break into the shell for the meat, or watching a macaque follow the receding tide, carry a very specially shaped rock, then so proficiently break into oysters were doing the obvious, undertaking that not-so-exclusive human trait, using tools.

Darwin had related us all in theory. Jane related us all in human terms.

Scientists can certainly hold back science but eventually common sense prevails. Attachment is the beginning of commitment. That commitment is to a large extent what the Hancock Wildlife Foundation tries to be all about. Our efforts to get cameras revealing the intimate life of bald eagles are to allow us all to identify with these marvelous creatures, to see how they and we have more similarities than differences, and most certainly more mutually interdependent needs than disconnections. At every conflict between us humans and the wild it is the human blindness to our lack of mutual respect that brings us closer to extinction. We can’t live without the clean waters, the patches of forest and prairies that produce so many different species or survive for long if we destroy more than the safe harvestable limits. We need a movement that says: Ecological Sustainability First!

Naming the BETA Eagles:

We need to name our traveling eagles to know them better. In caring for the eagle we can better identify why they, just as we humans, go to specific places. We and eagles are interconnected. Our eagles are our ambassadors to the world. Watching our first 5 eagles move around the coast is incredibly insightful. I started to bait them to condition them for trapping. Fortunately this incredible gathering was about 50 percent sub-adults, but of all the adults present I did not know how many were local breeders. My life-long question has been from where did all these eagles come and when our breeders and their young leave here, where do they go? Finally our BETA Project is tackling our responsibility of hosting the world’s largest gathering of eagles.

We initially had a small window in which to trap the adult eagles. I did not want to catch adults that might have eggs in the oviduct – our local breeders. We do want to band and track all ages of eagles and from wherever they come from, but at the times when it would least interfere with their own biology.

This restriction meant we could trap up until mid-February. Of course it was possible to selectively catch only juveniles and we did trap another 15 of them for color banding. Now until late April we are holding off further trapping until the chicks hatch. But today we have 5 eagles traveling around the country, some apparently headed north, presumably to the very northern breeding grounds that are likely still surrounded by frozen lakes. The only sub-adult we are tracking is working the central calving grounds of British Columbia’s cow country. Watching these eagles go from one wondrous food source to another as they travel the continent is an ecological lesson – a travel diary worthy of a Frommer addict. At so many places I see them stop I have stopped there because of the great tidal rushes discombobulating the migrating fish, the breeding colonies of marine mammals leaving afterbirth and dead calves as potential food, following the migration paths of a million birds.

Naming Your Eagle!

As I write this my heart is with the eagle that has traveled the entire British Columbia coast and is now at the entrance of Icy Straits, Alaska. It is hanging out at the precise place I have so many times visited and been awed by the thousands of sea lions, the continuous stream of passing whales, the daily and nightly passage each spring and fall of thousands of migrating birds. At night dozens can land on the cruise ship decks and be frightened off by the morning deck runners to the delight of the peregrine falcons hovering over the deck knowing that breakfast is coming. Like Captain Cook who visited this site in 1779 to the million or so cruise ship passengers who now pass annually, the eagles have known of these treasures for millennia. I wonder if this eagle’s cell signals, the signals they are transmitting to call us with their GPS location, will be picked up by the passing cruise ships.

So we have 5 eagles carrying our cell trackers and another 16 carrying colored bands. Can you follow them? Do you wish to name them? Do you wish to get involved and help fund this BETA Project – our Bald Eagle Tracking Alliance?

My hope is some of you will want to follow your favorite eagle, perhaps even plan a trip to enjoy the ecological highlights it is enjoying. These eagles are going to America’s most wondrous places. My guess is you will want to “name your eagle” or at least know it by name! Should we have an Eagle Naming Contest? Probably so. However, I have usurped the first couple of Tracked Eagle names – the first; “Hope & Expectation” reflected my personal feelings about this entire project. This is a 65 year ambition of mine and I assigned the name. The second, I have named after my Mary – whom many of you have known.

When I was plotting the WEB Data Tables of these “tracked eagles” on the weekend I was constantly interrupted by the world’s news on a long overdue responsibility. The TV was totally devoted to the students of the world – particularly America – saying ”enough is enough.” This was to me another moment like Darwin, like opening the horse’s mouth and counting the teeth, like the US banning the $2.00 Bounty on Eagles, like Jane naming her chimps. Freedom took a big leap forward over ignorance and societal bullying.

These speeches last weekend made me cry. The first 18 young eagles wearing our color bands are named Yolanda, the granddaughter of Martin Luther King and the 17 names of the Stoneman Douglas students and teachers who lost their lives. This is my little statement of support to a more sensible and respectable world that my generation has failed to achieve. Perhaps these deaths are a sign of a better life of “Hope and Expectation” for not just the human race but the environment we depend upon.

So the Foundation followers can come up with the best ways to first name the tracked and banded eagles and then hopefully we will get more followers who will jump in and help summarize this data for the web. Go to it. We are starting to show the movements of these eagles on the web ”Live Tracking” and you can even start to follow the individual lives of these birds from the day of capture onward.


David Hancock