Everything must eat, this I know. Nearly everyday I witness fish being taken by eagles, gulls, seals, sea lions, and orcas. I’ve stood in awe as humpbacks gaze up at the sky and lazily open their gigantic mouths in order to basket feed. And I’ve greedily photographed almost all of these occasions with excitement.
This morning David watched from our cabin windows as an immature bald eagle swooped down and picked up not a fish, but a gull. He had seen this happen once earlier this summer and was not nearly as shocked as I. We watched as the young eagle landed on the rocky face that extends our cove out into the channel. With the gull in its talons, the eagle began to pick away at it. Unusual prey we thought, but normal behavior. I ran over to the lab and grabbed the camera in order to document this unexpected event. As I hurried back to our porch, the eagle took flight, still clenching the gull in its talons. But as the eagle landed on its perch, we noticed it had dropped the gull into the cove.
Hardly thinking anything of it, I returned the camera back to the lab to notice David staring into the scope where the gull had been dropped. “It’s still alive and floating just below the eagle,” he said to me. As I lowered the scope to take a look, I felt myself start to panic. With ruffled feathers and immobile wings, I watched this gull getting pushed up against the rocky shoreline by the growing waves and flooding tide.
In a flurry, I began to run back towards the bird. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it, but I knew I wanted to try and help. I carefully ran across the rocks and kelp until I saw it floating near the rocky cliff. Both wings were limp at its sides and its feathers were in disarray. The last gull I’d been that close to had washed up in our cove a few weeks prior and we buried it in the woods. In an attempt to avoid another funeral, I decided to use my sweater to pick this bird up out of the water and bring it to shore. In a span of about three seconds I had convinced myself that I could nurse this poor thing back to health and somehow rehabilitate it.
As I waited for the waves to push the bird up in order for me to safely grab it, I wished so badly to be able to communicate with it. I needed it to know that I was trying to help and that I wanted it to live. Instead, it worked as hard as it could to paddle away from me. In that moment, I felt ashamed that I thought any attempt I made could save this bird.
As I sat up on a high rock watching it bob in the water, I accepted that this is nature. This was not the same death that consistently breaks my heart with animals that are mass produced in factory farms or trophy hunted. The pain, suffering, and fear that those animals experience is not something I can compare to the death of an animal that has never been touched by humans. This dance I witnessed between the gull and the eagle was not something I needed to fix, feel guilty over, or apologize for.