Red Cat Adventures tour guide Cameron Butler and skipper Mick Whelan rescued a drowning sea eagle off Hook Island.
Red Cat Adventures tour guide Cameron Butler and skipper Mick Whelan rescued a drowning sea eagle off Hook Island. Claudia Alp

Hook, line and sea eagle

A RED Cat Adventures tour took a thrilling turn when passengers witnessed the crew rescue a drowning sea eagle last month.

Popular Red Cat catamaran Thundercat was en route to Manta Ray Bay off Hook Island about 11.30am when tour guide Cameron Butler and skipper Mick Whelan noticed a sea eagle in distress.

The bird of prey had attempted to swipe bait from a trolling lure, but managed to get himself hooked through the talon instead, much to the dismay of the fishermen.

Realising the eagle would die without help, Mr Butler got into Thundercat's tender and went to the rescue.

After three or four attempts, he put a towel over the bird to calm it, cradled it and removed the hook with a pair of pliers - no easy feat given its size.

"Once I covered him up with the towel he just sat on me like a baby. He tried to have a bite so I covered his head and then he just settled right down and I could literally play with his foot,” Mr Butler said.

"This one was a fully-grown male with a wing span of about 1.8 metres.”

RESCUED: Red Cat Adventures tour guide Cameron Butler put a towel over the sea eagle to calm it.
RESCUED: Red Cat Adventures tour guide Cameron Butler put a towel over the sea eagle to calm it. Contributed

It's not the first time Mr Butler has come to an eagle's aid.

The fearless tour guide rescued four eagles in the space of 12 years - all in close proximity to Hook Island where, he said, their main congestion is.

"This sort of thing doesn't happen every day. Nine times out of ten they'll come down and just swipe at it (the bait),” Mr Butler said.

"For an eagle to get fouled up in a hook is pretty unlucky because they're pretty intelligent birds.”

Back on Thundercat, Mr Whelan said the sea eagle would have died without assistance.

"The thing about sea eagles, they're not like a true sea bird. They don't have webbed feet. They don't carry as much oil in their feathers so when their feathers get wet, it weighs them down,” he said.

"When they're in the water it's a bit of a problem because if someone doesn't rescue them, they're basically gone.”

Red Cat Adventures tour guide Cameron Butler with the trolling lure, removed from the sea eagle's talon.
Red Cat Adventures tour guide Cameron Butler with the trolling lure, removed from the sea eagle's talon. Contributed

Once the hook was removed, Mr Butler took the sea eagle to the nearest beach and released him.

He said watching the eagle take flight was "absolutely incredible” for passengers and crew.

"I had the most amazing day with the passengers after that. Everybody got to watch it fly away,” Mr Butler said.

"The feeling of watching him go, back up to his pine tree or little rocky cave... all the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up.

"They (eagles) are a very important part of this tour - showing guests the birds of prey out there.”

The rescued sea eagle taking flight.
The rescued sea eagle taking flight. Contributed

While they don't usually escape without a few scratches and the occasional bite, Mr Whelan said he and Mr Butler would always go to the rescue.

"We'd rather save one, even if we get bitten or scratched,” Mr Whelan said.

"It's quite common for a sea eagle to come down and take baits off the water. As long as you throw a towel over them like Cameron did, you can untangle them and let them go.”

Red Cat Adventures tour guide Cameron Butler and skipper Mick Whelan pictured with Thundercat.
Red Cat Adventures tour guide Cameron Butler and skipper Mick Whelan pictured with Thundercat. Claudia Alp

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