Soar like an eagle; but swim like one too?
By Jessica Stanaway
Passengers on the Famous Soo Locks Boat Tours got an extended tour and a bonus “up North” story to tell when the crew spotted a bald eagle struggling to swim away from the MacArthur Lock. Captain Larry Spencer, narrator Kari Eliason and dock master Kathy Morton were in the pilot house upbound when they spotted the eagle using its wings to propel itself through the water.
The eagle’s location made rescue a necessity, since the area below the locks in is entirely enclosed by concrete walls. There was nowhere the eagle could reach a shore, and it would eventually have tired and drowned without their intervention.
The crew immediately went into action with Kari and Kathy using a walkie-talkie from the lower deck to guide the captain to maneuver the boat nearer the eagle.
Senior deckhand and chief engineer, Dave Dumas, opened the gangway on the port side and, knowing they did not have a net large enough to hold the eagle, tried to throw a life ring near it, hoping it would climb on.
Neither this tactic nor trying to scoop it into a milk crate worked, and the eagle swam away from the ring. Kathy, a retired Michigan State Police trooper, alerted Central Dispatch, hoping the sheriff or D.N.R. might have a boat nearby that could assist.
Learning that the first effort had been unsuccessful, Captain Spencer turned the tour boat around and returned downriver where there were fishermen in boats. They were able to get the attention of one boat, and while Kari and Kathy were yelling to the first boat, another had apparently spotted the eagle.
Dock Master Kathy Morton, Captain Larry Spencer, Narrator Kari Eliason, Senior Deckhand and Chief Engineer, Dave Dumas
The second boat had a large enough net, and they were able to approach the bird and safely scoop it into the net. The fishermen then headed back toward the locks where they were able to deposit the eagle on the Center Pier, an area just below the entrance to the locks.
The eagle’s feathers would have been thoroughly soaked after spending so much time in the water, and it rested on the pier for about five minutes before flying away.
With the eagle safely out of the water, Captain Spencer turned the tour boat back around while Kari resumed her narrating, giving the passengers a detailed account of the rescue.
The sight of a bald eagle is something that most people never experience, let alone to see one swimming. The crew assumed that the eagle had caught a very large fish in its talons but was unable to get airborne with it. Not wanting to release a substantial meal, the eagle held on, with no way of knowing that there was no dry land near where it could leave the water.
One law of the seas is that a ship must answer a distress call from any other vessel. While this feathered vessel with its heavy cargo was not what one would usually picture, the captain did not hesitate to turn his boat around in an attempt to help the bird.
The rescue adventure delayed the boat’s tour though the Soo Locks only about 25 minutes, and Kari now has another story to add to future narrations. Passengers were delighted to learn that they had been part of the rescue mission.
Captain Spencer is a certified SCUBA instructor and diving enthusiast. He remembers a diving vacation to Florida where he was able swim among the Manatees, another protected creature.
Kathy Morton loves to be around boats and has found an ideal second career as the dockmaster.
Kari Eliason, originally from land-locked Ironwood, Michigan, is a self-professed boat nerd. Kari developed a love for identifying and photographing Great Lakes freighters after moving here in 1995.
She says she has found her dream job, telling passengers about the history of the Soo while being up close and personal with the many ships she admires. She especially likes promoting tourism and helping visitors to the Soo enjoy their stay here.
After docking, the crew immediately procured a very large net to add to their equipment, in case another rescue is needed in the future.
Published for Drummond Island Digest