A super-sized bird in Alaska
By PETER PORCO
Anchorage Daily News
October 15, 2002
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - A giant winged creature, like something out of Jurassic Park, has reportedly been sighted several times in Southwest Alaska in recent weeks.
Villagers in Togiak and Manokotak say they have seen a huge bird that's much bigger than anything they have seen before.
A pilot says he spotted the creature while flying passengers to Manokotak last week. He calculated that its wingspan matched the length of a wing on his Cessna 207. That's about 14 feet.
Other people have put the wingspan in a similar range.
Scientists aren't sure what to make of the reports. No one doubts that people in the region west of Dillingham have seen a very large rapto-like bird. But biologists and other people familiar with big Alaska birds say they're skeptical it's that big.
A recent sighting of the mystery bird occurred Oct. 10 when Moses Coupchiak, a 43-year-old heavy equipment operator from Togiak, 40 miles west of Manokotak, saw the bird flying toward him from about two miles away as he worked his tractor.
"At first I thought it was one of those old-time Otter planes," Coupchiak said. "Instead of continuing toward me, it banked to the left, and that's when I noticed it wasn't a plane."
The bird was "something huge," he said. "The wing looks a little wider than the Otter's, maybe as long as the Otter plane."
The bird flew behind a hill and disappeared. Coupchiak got on the radio and warned people in Togiak to tell their children to stay away.
Pilot John Bouker said he was highly skeptical of reports of "this great big eagle" that is two or three times the size of a bald eagle. "I didn't put any thought into it."
But early this week while flying into Manokotak, Bouker, owner of Bristol Bay Air Service, looked out his left window and 1,000 feet away, "there's this big ... . bird," he said.
"The people in the plane all saw him," Bouker said. "He's huge, he's huge, he's really, really big. You wouldn't want to have your children out."
Nicolai Alakayak, a freight and passenger driver from Manokotak who was flying with Bouker, said the creature looked like an eagle and was as large as "a little Super Cub."
Comparison to an eagle, certainly. Super Cub? Probably not, scientists said.
"I'm certainly not aware of anything with a 14-foot wingspan that's been alive for the last 100,000 years," said federal raptor specialist Phil Schemf in Juneau.
Schemf, other biologists, a village police officer and teachers at the Manokotak School said the sightings could be of a Steller's sea eagle, a species native to northeast Asia and one of the world's largest eagles. It's about 50 percent bigger than a bald eagle.