Lead exposure killing bald eagles in Masset, Old Massett

Despite efforts to treat it, this bald eagle from Haida Gwaii died in August from lead poisoning after it was sent by local volunteers to the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society in Delta, B.C. OWL has helped many injured birds from Haida Gwaii over the years. Local businesses can support the organization by offering prizes for its second annual fundraising gala later this fall. (Image courtesy Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society)

Despite efforts to treat it, this bald eagle from Haida Gwaii died in August from lead poisoning after it was sent by local volunteers to the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society in Delta, B.C. OWL has helped many injured birds from Haida Gwaii over the years. Local businesses can support the organization by offering prizes for its second annual fundraising gala later this fall. (Image courtesy Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society)

More bald eagles are turning up with lead poisoning or injuries near Masset and Old Massett.

Over three weeks in August, Leila Riddall and other local wildlife rescue volunteers tried to save a half a dozen.

Four eagles were poisoned by lead exposure, most likely after eating fish or mammal carcasses that contained lead fishing weights or shards of lead-filled bullets.

Another two were shocked on hydro lines, and one was struck by a car.

“We haven’t got any of those back,” Riddall said.

Of the six, only one is still alive, recovering from low-level lead poisoning at the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL) facility in Delta, B.C.

In fact, five of the six eagles from Haida Gwaii tested positive for lead at various levels, said Rob Hope, OWL’s manager of raptor care.

“The ranges vary, from low to mid-range,” Hope said. “But usually, any rating we get on our machines can be fatal.”

Lead is toxic, and lead birdshot — which scatters widely — was banned for hunting most migratory game birds in Canada in 1999.

A petition to expand the ban to include lead fishing weights and hunting shot was rejected in 2006.

Hope said banning lead hunting shot would be almost impossible.

“The goal isn’t to ban lead,” he said. “It’s about getting people to know there is ammunition on the market that is non-lead.”

A quick search of Haida Gwaii stores did not turn up any non-lead hunting shot in stock. Hope said non-lead hunting bullets are often far more expensive. Like bismuth fishing weights, they are often tougher to find as well.

But for deer hunters, Hope pointed out that non-lead bullets do offer advantages.

All-copper bullets, for example, tend to pass through an animal more cleanly. That, and the fact they don’t leave harmful lead shards behind, means hunters can use far more of the meat.

Riddall said there is a far easier solution to most of the threats faced by eagles in the Masset area — making sure fish waste and mammal carcasses go to sea rather than piles on the beach.

“People just don’t think it through,” she said. Besides the poisonings, she said many eagles get electrocuted while fighting over piles of scraps along the seawall or the stretch of highway alongside Masset Harbour.

“We shouldn’t have a population of eagles in town, and we do,” she said. “They sit and wait every day for someone to dump something.”

“The young aren’t learning how to hunt.”

MassetOld Massett