One of my favorite things about fishing off our rocks is the ringside seat it provides. Often I’m joined in my fishing efforts by bald eagles that live and nest along the tree line. The term “eagle eye” is somewhat cliché, but here we get to see firsthand how their superior eyesight works. I’m always amazed when an eagle flies straight and flat across the water, sometimes traveling a mile or more from its perch in the trees to one specific spot on the water, from which it snatches a fish. Every once in a while, though, things don’t go as planned.
Recently I watched an eagle streak out across the water, then stoop on prey. Just before it hit the surface, something big jumped out the water beneath it. I heard the splash clearly from about a mile and a half away. I saw the briefest glimpse of some dark object, maybe with a fin or flipper. Gauging the size of the creature against the eagle, which has an average wingspan of 6 1/2 to 8 feet, I’d guess the creature could be as much as 6 feet long. The eagle seemed startled, and pulled up sharply, hovered for a second to watch the animal, then wheeled and headed back to its perch.
What was it? It might have been a sea lion. In that light, and at that distance, they often appear black. I watched for a while, but didn’t see a sea lion resurface for air, but I’ve watched enough of them to know that this maneuver is easily missed.
The question becomes, how could an eagle mistake a sea lion for prey? I’ve seen other encounters where an eagle has stooped for the kill only to be frightened off by a sea lion. I assume they had both been coming at the same fish from different directions.
It may have been a porpoise, although I didn’t see the telltale dorsal fin.
Since I was fishing too, and, like all anglers, have dreams of my own, I’d like to think it was a really big fish—perhaps a monster salmon, or a halibut making a rare surface swim. Without proper evidence, anything’s possible!