The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

June 26, 2014

Webcams offer viewers unflinching look at nature

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Wildlife webcam operators around the world are grappling with a problem: Viewers don't want to see any harm come to critters they've grown to love.

Officials caved in to protests about the grittier side of nature last month in Minnesota, attempting to rescue a baby eagle with a broken wing. In coastal Maine, a struggling eaglet died last weekend after wildlife experts decided to let nature take its course, triggering outcry from viewers across the country.

Such reactions are understandable but misguided, experts say.

"The nest cam is more of a mirror to reflect what's going on with all eagle nests. It's not to be used as a baby monitor to intervene when we see something that makes us feel sad as humans," said Erynn Call, a raptor specialist with the state of Maine.

People's empathy is triggered by cuddly animals, especially the plight of a single creature as opposed to larger group that's suffering, said Nicholas Epley, professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago.

Nonetheless, experts are loath to get involved.

"The general view is not to intervene," said Patrick Keenan from the Biodiversity Research Institute in Maine. "These are wildlife. They're not pets."

All told, there are hundreds of wildlife webcams showing everything from polar bears to peregrine falcons to clown-like seabirds called puffins. Viewers see remarkable things, like bears catching salmon, or eagles hatching from eggs.

But it's not always pretty.

Two summers ago, viewers watched "Petey" the baby puffin starve on a Maine island because the only available fish were too big to fit in his beak. Viewers begged this spring for someone to do something for a Maine osprey that suffered from a condition causing it to bleed from underneath its eyes.

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