At least 19 bald eagles died after gorging themselves on a truck full of fish waste outside a processing plant.
Fifty or more of the eagles swarmed into the back of a truck, after the truck was moved outside the plant on Friday, said Brandon Saito, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who coordinated the recovery operation.
The birds became too soiled to fly or clean themselves, and with temperatures in the mid-teens Fahrenheit (around 10 degrees Celsius), they began to succumb to the cold. Some birds became so weak they sank into the fish slime and were crushed.
The truck's contents had to be dumped onto the floor of the Ocean Beauty Seafoods plant so the birds could be retrieved. Some tried to scatter, but since they couldn't fly, wildlife officers were soon able to retrieve them. The eagles were then cleaned with dish soap in tubs of warm water to remove the oily slime and warm them.
The survivors were taken to a heated fish and wildlife warehouse to recover, though some were in critical condition. Saito said they would be released as soon as they were dry and strong enough.
The dead birds will be shipped to a U.S. Department of Interior clearinghouse, where Native American groups could apply to be given the birds or their feathers for ceremonial purposes.
Requests for interviews from Ocean Beauty officials were not returned.
Commercial fishing is the main industry in Kodiak, a city of about 6,000 on Kodiak Island on the south coast of Alaska.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Free Email News Updates
Sign up for our Inside National Geographic newsletter. Every two weeks we'll send you our top stories and pictures (see sample).