Swan shot with arrow caught, treated, released

September 1, 2009 

Armed with nets and cunning, a posse of scientists and kayakers captured the injured Tern Lake swan Tuesday morning and removed an arrow that pinned a wing to the bird's breast and penetrated close to its spine.

The capture operation, directed by the Alaska Sealife Center, lasted about an hour. It took another eight minutes to remove the arrow -- which penetrated its breast more than 4 inches -- on the back of a flatbed pickup.

After treatment at the Sealife Center, the 23-pound bird was released back into Tern Lake late Tuesday afternoon.

"It was a target arrow -- blunt-tipped, not barbed," said Tim Lebling, stranding coordinator at the Sealife Center. "So we pulled it out in the field."

X-rays taken at the Sealife Center showed that, though deeply embedded, the arrow missed bones and critical organs.

"That was a very lucky bird," said Tasha DiMarzio, senior aviculturist at the Sealife Center. "The arrow was so close to the spine, we could feel the blunt tip on the spine.

"But the bird was very healthy. It was feeding itself, and its weight felt really good. It may be stiff for a few days but should be OK."

tricky capture

The captors had a touch of luck themselves.

Four volunteers in single kayaks from Seward's Kayak Adventures Worldwide approached the pair of birds from the north side of the marshy and island-dotted lake, trying to herd them through different channels toward a corralling net that spanned a narrow finger of water.

"It's a little different than dealing with clients," allowed Wendy Doughty, co-owner of the company, who watched from shore.

The healthy swan flew off, honked vigorously but landed nearby. The injured bird couldn't fly.

"But the swan picked right up on the net," said freelance photographer George Rauscher, who documented the proceedings. "They can move real quick. He got between the kayakers and took off."

So the kayakers tried again, and this time they cornered the swan in a narrow slough.

"The swan tried to escape at the last moment," DiMarzio said.

But the Seward scientist, who's captured swans before, jumped into the water and got a hold of the goose's good wing and neck, immobilizing it.

"When she got her arm around it," Rauscher said, "a lot of the fight was out of it. It was like it said, 'I've done all I can do. I gave it my best shot.' It got very docile."

That's common among waterfowl, said DiMarzio, who's worked at the Sealife Center more than seven years. "They have a strong fight-or-flight instinct," she said, but once captured they often cease resisting.

Eight minutes later, the arrow was out.


The good news was the arrow didn't have a barbed tip.

"The tragedy," Lebling said, "is that it was a target arrow shot at close range. (Trumpeter swans) aren't animals being hunted. This was definitely a malicious action."

Because of that, the Alaska Wildlife Alliance has offered a $1,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of whoever shot the bird.

"It is going to be difficult no doubt, and so far there's been no response," said John Toppenberg, director of the alliance. "It will be good until we pay it or time expires, which is forever basically."

Wildlife enforcement officers with both Chugach National Forest and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service are interested in the finding the culprit, too.

Tern Lake is part of Chugach National Forest, and harming trumpeter swans is a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes the killing of a variety of migratory birds including trumpeter swans illegal. Trumpeter swans typically begin their migration south between mid-September and mid-October.

The Fish & Wildlife Service manages enforcement of the act.

"We'll take a look at the arrow, and maybe send it to the lab," said Chris Johnson, lead law enforcement officer at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. "It's a fairly common arrow."

So far, nobody's phoned in any leads, he said.

"But that's how we solve wildlife crimes," Johnson said. "There's still a possibility."


But that didn't matter to the injured swan late Tuesday afternoon when a truck carrying a large cage pulled up at Tern Lake.

Towels draping the bird with its 6-foot wingspan were removed as it was coaxed from the cage. Carefully, a worker carried the bird to water, clasping its head in her hands to keep the bird's neck from flailing. Far out on the lake swam the other swan.

The freed bird made a beeline to its mate.

Reach reporter Mike Campbell at mcampbell@adn.com or 257-4329.

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