Octopus vs. Eagle: Scientists explain what was going on in rare animal interaction
VANCOUVER -- Scientists say a video of an eagle and an octopus battling to survive on the north coast of Vancouver Island is an extremely rare event, and is the first known observation of an octopus apparently preying on an eagle in British Columbia.
"I was shocked to see an octopus wrapping up an eagle at the surface of the water," said Ben Freeman, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia who studies eagles.
"That was not something I had ever heard of previously."
Chris Harley, a professor of zoology who studies octopuses and other marine animals, sums up his reaction to the video this way: "Holy crap – really?"
The video was filmed by a group of workers at Mowi Canada West fish farm near Quatsino, B.C. John Ilett, the manager of the fish farm, previously told CTV News that workers heard "a bunch of screeching and water splashing sounds" and then saw an eagle struggling in the grip of an octopus.
Realizing the eagle was drowning, the men decided to help it out by using a long rod to untangle the two animals. At the end of the video, both animals appear to be unharmed.
So what was going on in the video? Christine Martinello, an assistant curator at the Vancouver Aquarium who works with octopuses, says the ocean creatures have been known to grab seagulls from the surface of the water and do have the ability to eat birds, although they need to drown them first.
Eagles normally swoop down quickly to grab fish or other animals out of the water, and don't spend much time in the water, Harley said. But sometimes eagles will go for a fish, but crash-land and have to swim back to shore. The splashing and commotion that caused could have attracted the octopus, Harley said.
It's also possible that the eagle was trying to capture the octopus, Freeman said.
"What eagles do is they cruise around, and they'll eat things that are floating at the surface," he said.
"It probably saw the octopus near the surface and went down the grab it, not realizing the octopus was alive and the octopus was able to grab the eagle."
And once the octopus wrapped its arms around the eagle, it's clear the tables were turned in favour of the eight-armed cephalopod, which has "mouth parts that are similar to a parrot's beak," Harley said, and a firm, suction-cup-fueled grip, said Martinello.
Both octopuses and eagles have healthy populations in B.C., and while the general rule is that humans shouldn't get involved with wild animal interactions, Freeman and Harley said it's understandable that the fish farm workers stepped in to save the eagle.
One of the reasons eagle populations are so robust now is because of conservation efforts taken over the years, especially when it comes to eliminating use of the pesticide DDT, which took a huge toll on bird populations in the 1950s and 60s, Freeman said.
"It's tempting to say that we are 'lucky' to live in a province with so many eagles, where eagles nest in Vancouver and congregate by the hundreds in many places … but it's not really about luck," he said.
"It's about people deciding they want to live side by side with eagles and other birds of prey, and then protecting these birds to let their populations thrive."
Harley said the video is "an opportunity to remind people that nature is wild and wonderful."
"We only conserve what we love," he said, "so having the chance to watch something like that and get a little tingle of thrill at watching something so fascinating I think does help connect people with nature."
And when it comes to picking sides, Harley, the marine life researcher, says he's on team octopus because the animals are so intelligent, quick and surprising.
Freeman, the eagle expert, says he can't help but root for the raptor.
"But it's important to be gracious in defeat, and the octopus was clearly the victor here," Freeman admitted.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Emad Agahi.