It was a bizarre, terrifying sight seen by millions in the past 24 hours: A large bird videotaped in the skies above a park in Montreal, Canada, suddenly swoops down and snatches a baby sitting in the grass, only feet from a parent. The bird - identified as a golden eagle in the YouTube description - drops the child a few seconds later, flying away and leaving shocked bystanders.
The video, which has now garnered over 5 million hits, has spurred both speculation and skepticism. A handful of arguments have been offered for and against the video's authenticity.
On one hand, the video looks generally authentic, and many people noted that if it was a hoax, it was a skilled one. Others noted that eagles and falcons are known to swoop down and grab animals and objects, even ones that are near people. And there are a few (albeit unconfirmed and possibly mythical) claims of large birds carrying off babies.
On the other hand, there are many reasons to doubt. It's curious that the bizarre babynapping didn't make the news. After all, it's not every day that an eagle swoops down and snatches a baby, much less on camera and in full daylight of a public park. Surely the story would merit a mention on at least the local news, yet no journalism stories about it could be found. And how convenient that the cameraman just happened to be videotaping a large bird high in the sky that, moments later, swooped down for a once-in-a-lifetime abduction.
Then there's the fact that the bird in the video is not a golden eagle and is not found in Canada. Large birds of prey do indeed snatch animals off the ground - it's how they eat, after all - but typically it's small animals like mice, fish, rabbits, squirrels and gophers. A bundled baby would likely weigh much more than the prey birds hunt. In fact the birds likely wouldn't even attempt it, recognizing with their keen vision that the baby would be too big and heavy to carry off anyway. Of course, it could just be a very, very optimistic eagle.
As it turned out, the skeptics were right: A Montreal 3-D animation school, Centre NAD, fessed up to the hoax.
In a statement, the school proudly noted, "The 'Golden Eagle Snatches Kid' video, uploaded to YouTube on the evening of December 18, was made by Normand Archambault, Loïc Mireault and Félix Marquis-Poulin, students at Centre NAD, in the production simulation workshop class of the Bachelors degree in 3D Animation and Digital Design....Both the eagle and the kid were created in 3D animation and integrated in to the film afterwards. The video has already received more than 1,200,000 views on YouTube and has been mentioned by dozens of media in Canada and abroad."
The Centre NAD also noted that this was not the first time that a video produced by their students had fooled the public: "Hoaxes produced in this class have already garnered attention, amongst others a video of a penguin having escaped the Montreal Biodôme."
The Canadian animation students had their fun, and their school got worldwide publicity. But the hoax has angered some, including ornithologists concerned that the fake video might fuel unfounded fears of eagles and other endangered species that pose no threat to humans.
You can watch the whole video below: