Octopus Puts Death Grip on Eagle

By author of The Realblog with Stephanie Mallory

Fishermen free struggling national bird from giant mollusk

Did the eagle catch the octopus or the octopus catch the eagle? Scientists are offering their thoughs on this question since a recent video showing the two species entangled on the surface of the water has gone viral. The footage taken last week by a team of salmon farmers just off the northwestern tip of Vancouver Island shows a bald eagle struggling to free itself from a large octopus' tentacles.

The salmon farmers were on the water when they heard screeching and decided to investigate.  

“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, they decided to try to save the animals. Ilett used a pike pole to pull the octopus and eagle over to the boat. The crew hauled both aboard and detangled the eagle from the octopus' tentacles before tossing the octopus back in the water. 

“He deprived the poor octopus of a good meal,” Jennifer Mather, an octopus expert at the University of Lethbridge told The Guardian. She said octopuses will often take advantage of 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.”

As the name suggests, giant Pacific octopus can grow quite large, with some weighing as much as 115 pounds. But, they are usually shy and will hide when divers are nearby.

Christine Martinello, an assistant curator at the Vancouver Aquarium, told CTV News that octopuses 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.

Chris Harley, a professor of zoology who studies octopuses and other marine animals, told CTV News that sometimes eagles will go for a fish, but crash-land and have to swim back to shore. The splashing and commotion could have attracted the octopus.

Ben Freeman, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia who studies eagles, told CTV News it's also possible the eagle was trying to catch the octopus.

"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."

After the salmon farmers pried the eagle from its grasp, the octopus dove back down into deeper water.

The exhausted eagle perched on a nearby log for several minutes 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.”

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