Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Eagle Grabs Baby: stupidity goes viral

Unlike the bird in the viral video, this actually is a Golden Eagle.

From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes:  I have spent my whole life trying to teach people about nature.  When I see someone intentionally misleading the public with dangerously false ideas, and others repeating the misinformation without even attempting to fact-check it, I can’t help but be angry. 

Late at night on December 18, a video showed up on YouTube that purported to show a Golden Eagle swooping in to snatch a small child in a park in Montreal.  After a few labored wingbeats, gaining several feet off the ground, the eagle drops the child and flies away, while the videographer (screen name “MrNuclearCat”) rushes over for a closeup of the scene. 

After a few shares on Facebook, the video went viral, exploding all over the Internet.  By the morning of the 19th, the clip was being played on television news shows, and millions of people had seen it. 

But it’s faked. 

To determine that, you don’t have to know anything about computer graphics, or about the weight-lifting capacity of eagles.  All you have to do is look at the bird in the video.  A Golden Eagle in Montreal would be a notable rarity, but this bird is not a Golden Eagle at all.  The pattern of white in the wings immediately rules that out.  The exact identity of the bird is still being studied, but whatever it was—assuming it was a real bird at all, and not entirely computer-generated—it wasn’t anything native to North America. 

The sport of falconry—keeping hawks, falcons, or eagles in captivity, and training them to fly after prey—is still practiced.  Some falconers have exotic raptors that don’t occur in North America, or hybrids that don’t exist in the wild at all.  The bird in the video looks most similar to certain eagles in Asia or Australia.  The most likely explanation is that this was a falconer’s bird, and that it was trained to perform this stunt for the video. 

So:  was it a real baby in the video?  If so, using the child for this stupid stunt was a crime of child endangerment, and the authorities should be looking for “MrNuclearCat.”

Was a falconer’s bird trained to swoop in and pick up a doll that looks like a child?  If so, that is insanely stupid; it would never be safe to take that bird out in public again. 

Were large parts of the video simply done with computer graphics?  If so, why?  Why would anyone do this at all?  People in modern society are too far removed from nature as it is, and all too ready to believe scary stories about wild animals.  Why go to all this effort to create fear about harmless and beautiful birds?

Perhaps the most disheartening thing is the way the story spread, the way people were so willing to believe it.  Let me emphasize that I don't fault the individuals who saw it online and shared it; at first viewing, for most people, it probably looked both scary and realistic.  But I can't understand why several morning “news” shows on American television ran the video as if it were legitimate.  What ever happened to principles of journalism?  What ever happened to fact-checking? 

By now, a little over 12 hours after the video first appeared, it is being questioned in some online media.  I just spoke with Curtis Rush from the Toronto Star, who has already questioned the video online and is working on a second story, and this may help to get the facts out.  It would be wonderful if “MrNuclearCat” would post a follow-up, to explain how he made the video and to clarify that eagles don’t pose a threat to children. 

But people have limited attention spans, and any retraction or correction will never have the reach of the original video.  Vast numbers of people, only peripherally aware of nature in the first place, will come away with the lingering impression that eagles sometimes carry away babies, that nature is dangerous.  And that will represent one more sad break with reality, one more piece of damage done, one more falsehood to carry us all farther away from a real understanding of the natural world. 


UPDATE: It has just been confirmed that the video was produced for a class assignment by three students at Centre NAD, a school in Montreal.  Both the "eagle" and the baby were completely computer-generated.  More information at this link:

So no actual children were harmed or threatened in the making of this video.  But my final complaint about the video still stands; many people will never see the retraction, and they will be forever rendered a little more suspicious and fearful of the natural world, thus darkening their lives and the lives of their children.  

14 comments:

  1. It was confirmed that the video was created by students in a 3D animation class in Montreal:

    http://blogue.centrenad.com/2012/12/19/centre-nad-reassures-montrealers-no-danger-of-being-snatched-by-a-royal-eagle/?lang=en

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    1. they should be taught a lesson, such short shortsightedness in the name of 'art'

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  2. Thanks Kenn. I have spent the morning trying to find a qualified source to out this video as a fake.

    Bruce Williford
    Fresno, Ca

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  3. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/video-shows-eagle-snatching-baby-article-1.1223441

    FInally, some actually research from the press.

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  4. Or they could just have a running crawl at the bottom, saying "This is a video for an animation class, so chill out."

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  5. I just saw the statement from NAD as well about this being a student project. And apparently not the first such hoax video to come out of that school. What I'm wondering is why they haven't put a caveat underneath the video on YouTube explaining that this is an exercise in CGI? I can appreciate the art involved, and even the desire to see how real they can make it look to ordinary people, i.e., how many people they can fool. After all, we all pay big bucks to go see CGI creatures (including a Tiger that is in theaters right now) on the big screen, and these students may well be headed for stellar careers in the movie business. But surely, at least once it has gone viral to the extent of being picked up by mainstream media, why not add a note on the original video so that more people are not fooled? Seems like a responsible thing to do.

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  6. It's not just that they will be fearful of the natural world. Idiots with guns who see this will think they need to proactively shoot any large raptor that shows up nearby. Just what we need.

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  7. This doesn't help with management of urban raptors, particularly bald eagles nesting in developed areas. We already have to deal with the urban myth of raptor sweeping up cats and dogs. Bad idea for a publicity stunt.

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  8. I think it's an awesome video but anyone in the year of our lord 2012 who thinks a video is proof something happened is somebody who should not be allowed to vote, serve on a jury, carry a gun, or do anything else that requires judgement. Hello? You can do anything on video. Blow up the earth, invade Mars, Mars invade us, sink the Titanic, the list goes on. Video is fantasy, and if there are people who still don't know that, they need to wake up, rather than yelling at the artists who are trying to do a homework assignment.

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  9. Ken did you also notice the non-eagle vocalization that was dubbed over the video?

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  10. I worked on a Harpy Eagle reintroduction program in Latin America, and in the five months I was there at least one eagle was shot and killed. When talking to locals whose land abutted the national park, they frequently mentioned their concerns that a Harpy would kill their livestock or their children. We spent a lot of time educating people to the contrary; hopefully the news that this clip is a hoax spreads faster than the hoax itself. It is just sad that people believe this stuff is true.

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  11. I remember when I taught at a school in a rural area in the Midwest in the late 70s, students told me that they had to shoot hawks to protect farm animals. There's ignorance in the US too. This blog is one way to use events like this as a springboard for education.

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  12. I see eagles both bald & golden all the time. Perched atop trees in my yard, soaring overhead, going after prey and even on the ground. It didn't even occur to me to examine the bird in the video because the reaction of the person NEAR the child was "off." NO WAY would that person not have looked up, not have seen & heard an eagle coming and NOT have even noticed it took the *child* until after it was in the air!

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