Drowning Wedge-Tailed Eagle Rescued by Heroic Ocean Diver

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by Tracie Louise via Getty Images)

Professional diver Johno Rudge has been exploring the depths off the coast of Australia and documenting his findings for years. A recent find, however, shocked even this highly experienced adventurer.

It was a gorgeous, still day in the South Gippsland area, providing ideal conditions for ocean exploration. But as Rudge made his way across the gleaming surface of the Bass Strait, he noticed an unexpected sight.

Was it a fish? A dog? Upon further inspection, he realized it was an even stranger encounter than he initially thought – it was a wedge-tailed eagle. “It was a dead still, glassy day,” Johno Rudge told ABC Gippsland. “At first, I thought it was a dog swimming from Port Welshpool to Snake Island and it was being swooped by birds.”

The bird of prey appeared injured, barely staying afloat as it struggled against the relentless pull of the ocean’s depths. “This time of year they get quite territorial and it may have had a fight with another bird,” Rudge said. Thankfully, after a few attempts, the wedge-tailed eagle finally allowed Rudge to approach.

“We tried to corner him and catch him but he wasn’t letting us get close to him,” Rudge recalled. “So I stripped off [and] walked out there with the boat hook. He climbed up the boat hook, and I started walking him back in.”

Bringing his boat toward the bird, Rudge helped it climb aboard, where it perched “like a figurehead” as he continued his daily dive.

Wildlife Carer Works Toward Release of Wedge-Tailed Eagle

Though eagles can swim, they much prefer the skies. And once their wings are submerged, they cannot take flight again until they’re back on dry land. This leaves them defenseless against potential predators.

Knowing this, Johno Rudge kept an eye on the wedge-tailed eagle until he was able to transfer it to the care of wildlife experts. Back on land, wildlife carer Linda Cunningham took over the care of the rattled eagle. According to Cunningham, the eagle’s age made the water an even more dangerous place.

“This bird was only immature,” Cunningham explained. “Their feathers aren’t quite oiled up enough, so once they get waterlogged they can’t get out at all.”

Linda Cunningham agreed with Johno Rudge’s assessment – the near-drowned wedge-tailed eagle was one of the strangest animal encounters she’s ever had. In over 30 years of working with birds of prey, she had never rescued a waterlogged wedge-tailed eagle.

“[We’ll release her] once she’s put on a little bit of weight and she’s looking a bit more spritely,” she said. “She’s starting to look a bit better this morning. So within two or three days, once this weather is done, she’ll be back up in the sky again.”