Dr. Peter Sharpe
Institute for wildlife Studies
Keeping the American symbol alive.
Dr. Peter Sharpe has the epitome of an Eagle Rare Life Story – he is a wildlife biologist who has devoted his life to returning our nations symbol, the Bald Eagle, to its historic habitat on California’s Channel Islands.
Bald Eagles were wiped out on the Channel Islands by the mid-1960s as a result of DDT-contaminated waste being dumped into the local waters. As DDT worked its way into the food chain it caused eagles to lay thin-shelled eggs that broke before hatching. With no new eagles the population simply disappeared.
To return bald eagles to the islands, the Institute for Wildlife Studies (IWS) began releasing young bald eagles on Catalina Island in 1980. When these birds matured and laid their first eggs, they all broke. It turned out that DDT was still contaminating the food chain 15 years after it was banned for use in the US. Unwilling to give up, IWS tried something new - removing the fragile eggs, incubating them under controlled conditions, and fostering healthy chicks back to the nest for the adults to raise. Through fostering and the release of additional eagles, IWS maintained a small population of eagles on Catalina Island over the next decade.
When Dr. Sharpe took over direction of the project in 1997 there were 11 eagles, including 3 breeding pair, on Catalina Island. Dr. Sharpe, uncomfortable with heights, found the courage to hang 100 feet below a helicopter (aka “dope on a rope”) as it lowered him into cliff-side nests to retrieve fragile eggs and to foster young chicks weeks later. Some nests are accessible by foot, but he then trades the relative safety of being on the ground - he still has to scale cliffs and rock pinnacles hundreds of feet above the ocean - with having to contend with adult eagles dive-bombing him in an effort to protect their nests.
Creating new protocols, Dr. Sharpe greatly increased the hatching success of artificially incubated eggs, hatching more eggs in 4 years than had been hatched in the previous 14 years. He also started educational outreach with the establishment of live online cameras from remote nests and access to biologists through online discussion forums and weekly project updates.
In 2002, the program expanded to nearby Santa Cruz Island with the release of over 60 young eagles. In 2006, a pair of bald eagles nested on Santa Cruz Island and produced the first known bald eagle nestling on the Channel Islands since 1950. Under Dr. Sharpe’s leadership, over 160 young bald eagles have taken their first flight on the Channel Islands and the population has grown to 14 breeding pair spread across 4 of the 8 Channel Islands and a total of 60-70 eagles. Thanks to the devotion of Dr. Sharpe, his predecessors, their numerous assistants, and government and private partners, the future survival of bald eagles on the Channel Islands is promising.
For a recent documentary on the project, please visit: http://www.youtube.com/user/msrprestoration