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Eagle Saved from Drowning Thanks to NOAA Enforcement Officer

NOAA Enforcement Officer Noah Meisenheimer nudges a stranded bald eagle out of the rising tide and back to safety on June 22. His quick response helped save the bird from drowning. Photo copyright Peggy J. Smith. 

The Alaska Division's Special Agent in Charge Sherrie Tinsley Myers was pleased with Meisenheimer’s quick action, but not surprised by the care he took to bring the animal to safety. 

“His actions are representative of the care and compassion our people bring to their job. They are concerned with conservation, no matter what the species.” 

-Sherrie Tinsley Myers, Alaska Division’s Special Agent in Charge


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July 3, 2012

It was a matter of life and death for one bald eagle caught in a fast-rising tide in Alaska recently. But his story has a happy ending thanks to NOAA enforcement officer Noah Meisenheimer, who stepped in quickly to save the bird from drowning, pull it to safety, and warm it back up using his own jacket.

On June 22, Meisenheimer was in Ninilchik, Alaska, about 150 miles from Anchorage, conducting charter halibut patrols when a beachcomber alerted him that a bald eagle was stranded in the incoming tide. Because NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement does not manage bald eagles, the officer quickly called U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for guidance on how to handle the animal to minimize harm—but time was of the essence.

“It was up to its neck in water in the incoming tide,” Meisenheimer explained. “I asked the Fish and Wildlife Service tech what would be the best way I could save the animal.”

The tech suggested Meisenheimer use a long stick to nudge the eagle out of the water and above the high water line. Grabbing his waders from his truck and a tree limb from the beach, the officer went out into the water to rescue the bird.

“He did not try to fight or bite at the stick at all,” Meisenheimer noted. “He was very lethargic.”

Although Meisenheimer got the eagle back to shore, the cold, wet eagle wasn’t in the clear yet. The tide was still rising. So, this time, the officer tried a new approach—he rolled the stick toward the bird’s talons. The eagle caught the limb and allowed Meisenheimer to drag him about 25 yards farther away from the water.

“He just hung on for dear life,” Meisenheimer said. “It felt like he knew I was trying to get him out of a danger area.”

With Fish and Wildlife on its way, Meisenheimer went back to conducting his duties at the boat ramp. About an hour later, he was alerted by the same beachcomber that two more eagles were in trouble. The beachcomber already had moved one of the other eagles out of the tide using the tactic Fish and Wildlife suggested earlier in the day. Meisenheimer notified Fish and Wildlife again and stayed on scene to monitor the birds.

This time the officer noticed the first eagle he had saved from the water was still completely soaked and was looking hypothermic. After checking with Fish and Wildlife for additional guidance, Meisenheimer wrapped his jacket around the eagle, lifted it up behind its wings, and moved it to a crevasse so that it would be protected from the wind.

“I’ve moved moose and I’ve moved bears, but I’ve never handled an eagle,” said Meisenheimer, who was a game warden with the Department of Army Civilian Police Force prior to joining NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement in December 2009.

Once the officer removed his jacket from the eagle, the bird attempted to walk a little bit, spread his wings and began airing himself out. The bird was out of danger, out of the wind and out of ATV traffic. While Fish and Wildlife Service never made it out to Ninilchik that day, Meisenheimer stayed on scene until after 10 p.m. The next day all three eagles were gone.

“It was a good sign,” he noted. “All appeared healthy. I was relieved they had moved on and were safe.”

For Meisenheimer, who said he wanted to work for NOAA as a biologist when he first graduated from high school, it was all in a day’s work. 

“It was just another day in the life of an officer in Alaska!"

This article was developed by Lesli Bales-Sherrod of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement.