What Should Humans Do When Things Go Wrong on a Wildlife Cam?

As technology has improved, so has our ability to watch online streams of the natural world. We can watch bears, eagles, sharks and any number of creatures from all over the world at any time.

We can witness spectacular moments in real time. But, what about watching the sad side of nature unfurl before you on your computer?

Our friends at explore.org and the research teams they partner with run into this dilemma every year. Do you intervene when the animals are in a life-threatening situation?

The clip at the top of the page demonstrates this situation. Their osprey nest camera in Charlo, Montana, showed a newborn chick unable to eat because of an obstruction on its beak.

Hundreds of viewers watching this happen on the live feed started debating whether someone should help or if they should let nature run its course.

The chat moderators for the camera saw the increased number of comments and immediately alerted the Owl Research Institute (ORI) what was going on.

The research team started monitoring the live camera, which you can watch above, to determine whether they should intervene.

"At ORI, we have a non-intervention policy," they posted on a blog about the situation. "The exception, however, are situations caused by humans."

The team at ORI deemed that the chick's beak was being affected by man-made material, so they carefully stepped in. They later found that it was only dried fish.

These are the grey areas that researchers work in, especially when it comes to something so public-facing as a live cam focused on wild animals.

"Did we make the right decision? We can debate it till the end of time and there are valid arguments for both sides," the ORI blog post concluded. "We are thrilled to see the Osprey chick, C9, doing well and eating again, but would also like to take this opportunity to reiterate our policy that, in most cases, we will not intervene."

There are plenty of other situations when the choice was made to not intervene. For example, the father eagle went missing in 2018 on the popular Decorah bald eagle live camera.

While the consequences of such unfortunate circumstances for that bald eagle nest are hard to watch, there was no intervention because it was a natural phenomena.

There are rarely definitive answers in these live-documented situations, but ultimately the best practice is to let the professionally trained research teams make the call.