Arctic explorer harasses eagle during stop in Unalaska

The S/Y Infinity sails into Unalaska in May. The crew hopes to transit the Northwest Passage and circumnavigate the top of Greenland by the end of September. (Courtesy S/Y Infinity)

The crew of the S/Y Infinity pride themselves on exploring untouched places around the world while raising a little environmental awareness along the way.

Listen now

But when the sailboat passed through Unalaska this summer on its way to the Northwest Passage, one crew member had a questionable interaction with a bald eagle.

The Instagram video posted on May 28 shows a gloved hand reaching out towards a bald eagle perched on a dumpster.

“Don’t get upset,” Nico Edwards tells the eagle. “I’m going to touch you a bit. This is the hand, and it’s going to touch you gently.”

Edwards continues approaching the eagle, which moves away and shrieks.

“I want to touch you, you don’t want me to touch you, and there are some problems associated with this thing,” Edwards says. “Well, don’t be offended by the touching that’s going to happen. Shhh. You need to be quiet.”

The video was shot not long after the Infinity arrived in Unalaska before attempting to transit the Northwest Passage to Alert, Canada — the northernmost permanently inhabited spot in the world — and circumnavigate the top of Greenland.

When KUCB toured the 120-foot sailboat, Edwards joked about getting injured for publicity, in an exchange with crew engineer Victor Legros.

“I think — but it’s not a universally shared thing — that it would be good if somebody were to die or get heavily maimed,” Edwards said. “It would help us get PR.”

“He’s trying to get me to pet eagles,” Legros said of Edwards. “So that they hopefully mangle my face or my fingers on camera.”

“You can display your mangled nubs,” Edwards said.

That humor doesn’t play well with those who regulate eagle-human interactions.

“We would encourage anyone to avoid trying to touch or capture eagles,” said Jordan Muir of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service. He monitors raptors in the state of Alaska.

Muir didn’t respond to questions on this specific eagle incident. But he said pestering the birds is illegal and dangerous.

“Eagles have extremely powerful talons and feet,” Muir said. “They are capable of killing large animals. We wouldn’t want to see anyone injured by them. And eagles themselves — they’re really fragile animals, believe it or not, with hollow bones. That makes them susceptible to injury by people with even the best intentions.”

Eagles are protected by two federal laws, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Without a permit, disturbing an eagle can earn you a $100,000 fine, one year in prison, or both.

Oftentimes, penalties come down to whether the interaction was intentional.

“If it’s an unintentional act, we really try to work with the public to inform them and educate them,” Muir said. “If there’s a need to gather eagles or collect them, we’ll work with them through the permit system to best address their issues and help the situation.”

It’s unlikely Edwards had a permit when he approached the eagle.

The crew of the Infinity has a history of flouting regulations.

When they went to Antarctica in 2014, they didn’t have permits or insurance. Edwards said they were caught after posting pictures on Facebook. That expedition is chronicled in the documentary “Sea Gypsies: The Far Side of the World.”

Ultimately, the crew was fined $270.

“If we had gotten a guide, it would have been thousands and thousands of dollars,” Edwards said. “And we were careful. We washed our boots. We didn’t want to put the penguins at risk. We took all our trash with us. We sailed on the power of the wind and sun. We’re way better than all those cruise ships. But we got a lot of flack for that — $270 worth of flack.”

Edwards said it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. At this point, it’s unclear if he’ll be penalized for disturbing eagles in Unalaska. His last social media posts show the Infinity in Teller on July 12. The crew hopes to conclude their expedition by the end of September.

Previous articleASD suspends Dimond football program amid hazing allegations
Next articleGalvin wins US House primary; now takes on Rep. Young
Zoe Sobel is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk based in Unalaska. As a high schooler in Portland, Maine, Zoë Sobel got her first taste of public radio at NPR’s easternmost station. From there, she moved to Boston where she studied at Wellesley College and worked at WBUR, covering sports for Only A Game and the trial of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

No posts to display