The N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is the new home of two bald eagles that have recently been named to honor Native Americans.
The aquarium reached out via social media to find names for the two birds. The adult female bird has been dubbed Sha-goie-watha (one who causes to awaken), while the juvenile female will bear the name Uwohali (one who soars with the creator). Both names came from the Meherrin tribe of North Carolina.
“We had a total of 24 names submitted and that list was narrowed down to six per eagle. The list of names were cultivated from the tribes of North Carolina,” said Danielle Bolton, communications manager for the aquarium. “We reached out to the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs, who put us in contact with tribal leaders from the eight tribes of North Carolina. Three tribes provided a list of names — Haliwa Saponi Indian Tribe, Meherrin Indian Tribe and the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation. Later we learned that two of the tribes, Coharie Indian Tribe and Waccamaw Siouan Indian Tribe, no longer have languages. Their languages have died, however one has hope in a recent find. This knowledge solidified our desire to honor the rich Indian culture found here.”
Bolton said response to the naming has been positive from the public.
“The response has been, overall, extremely accepting. Of course there were some fun comments asking why we didn’t name them Mary and Ken for ‘American’,” Bolton said.
The names came with help from the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs, which Bolton visited in early March.
“While we were there, the realization that hit home was that this is a heritage that is dying,” Bolton said. “It’s so special to see the state’s history and culture reflected in the aquarium. ... It was truly an honor to work with the commission of tribes of North Carolina and be able to tell a part of their story.”
The two eagles were sent to the aquarium from separate wildlife sanctuaries after rehabilitation efforts on mobility hampering injuries failed. The adult bird, with her left wing amputated just below the elbow, came to the aquarium from TreeHouse Wildlife Center in Dow, Illinois. The younger bird is coming from the Cape Fear Raptor Center in Rocky Point. The eagle had both wings amputated near the wrist after flying into a powerline.
“These birds are flightless and not really very mobile,” Bolton said.
As such, the aquarium staff is training the birds to make caring for them simpler.
“These birds came from wildlife refuge centers where the goal is to rehabilitate and release,” Bolton said. “The eagles are unreleasable. They’re also learning to trust humans. … They’re still wild.”
Handling that training is Amanda Goble, the aquarium’s aviculturist. Gobles said she has had a passion for birds, and working with eagles is a dream come true.
“I’ve always loved birds and especially eagles,” Gobles said. “I don’t know where it came from, but it feels this is the culmination of that lifelong passion.”
As far as training goes, being able to refer to the eagles by name is a big leg up for Gobles.
“I think we relate so well to things that have names, and these names represent them so well,” Gobles said. “It’s so important to build trust with birds. … If it means having a name I can call to relate to them, that’s incredible.”
Goble said the training at the aquarium helps the eagles maintain their independence.
“When I train these birds, I’m not forcing them to do what I want. They have a lot of choices,” Goble said. “They’re picking up a lot of skills to help them live comfortably.”
Part of that living is new habitats that are being constructed for the eagles that account for their hampered mobility, Bolton said.
“The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) sets guidelines for animal welfare and care,” Bolton explained. “Eagles require a whole lot more guidelines than any other animal we have.”
“Accommodating that disability is something we had to keep in mind,” Goble said.
As such the habitats will feature ramps to allow the eagles to move about easier, low perches and shallower ponds.
“Eagles are water birds. We want them to be able to be where they’re comfortable, but we want that to be safe,” Goble said.
The eagles’ habitat is expected to open to the public Memorial Day weekend, the same time the aquarium has scheduled its annual bird show that features other feathered friends at the aquarium. The bald eagles will be unable to participate in the show but can be visited by the public.