Look – it’s a sea eagle! Whaddya mean you can’t see it? It’s right there – in the middle of the photo, about half way between the top of the photo and the edge of the land. It was more obvious in real life, I promise.
White-bellied sea eagles are huge, powerful birds, with wings that can stretch to 2m. Weighing up to 4.5kg, they can carry off prey up to half their own weight, and are rather catholic in their tastes – fish, sea birds, penguins, eels, blue-tongue lizards, and even baby wombats are all potential menu items. Young birds who’ve not yet mastered the art of capturing live prey are especially fond of carrion (dead things), which sometimes leads people to accuse them of killing lambs. This isn’t usually the case – they’re more likely to take the dead and the dying, providing a valuable paddock-cleaning service for farmers.
Canny older eagles will sometimes engage in a spot of piracy to meet their fast food requirements. They’ll chase other birds, like gannets, who’ve just caught themselves a fish, and harass them until they spew it back out again.
“What’s a pirate’s favourite letter?”
“Aye, you’d think it’d be R, but really, they loves the C!”)
The pilots (who double as boat captains) tell me they often see white-bellied sea eagles when they take tour boats up Melaleuca Inlet and out towards Port Davey. A family of three eagles has been recently seen about, probably two parents and one recently fledged baby. Sea eagles are a threatened species, listed as vulnerable under the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 – there are an estimated 200 pairs in the State. The Threatened Tasmanian Eagles Recovery Plan notes that they “favour large estuaries and convoluted coastlines”, things the Wilderness World Heritage Area has in spades.
The Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service have much better sea eagle photos that I do, which you can look at here – there’s an especially cute one of an adult feeding chicks unidentified chunks of flesh that it may well have stolen from somebody else.
In lieu of decent eagle pics, below are a few photos from the day trip I saw them on, which went out beyond the Breaksea Islands – boats can only get out there when conditions are very calm, and I was lucky enough to hop on one such trip on my second last day in the south west.