Beachgoers in Australia last month initially thought it was a turtle or a shark’s dorsal fin in the ocean. But upon closer inspection, they were stunned to see a cassowary – sometimes dubbed "the world’s most dangerous bird" – emerge from the ocean and shake itself off.
The endangered southern cassowary, a giant flightless bird native to Australia and New Guinea, was spotted by onlookers on Oct. 31 along the shores of Bingil Bay in the Australian state of Queensland, according to the local government.
Footage shared to the Queensland Department of Environment shows the cassowary approaching the shore from a far distance out, as well as standing on shore after a long swim.
"Cassowaries can swim and will take to the water to cross from one side of a river to the other, or if they feel threatened by domestic dogs or another cassowary through a territorial dispute," Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service Officer Stephen Clough said in a statement.
"We’re not sure how long this animal was in the water or why it went for a swim but the footage is astonishing," Clough added.
A southern cassowary sighting along the shores of Bingil Bay, in the Australian state of Queensland, on Oct. 31, 2023. (Credit: Nikita McDowell via Storyful)
There are an estimated 4,000 cassowaries living in the wild in Queensland, according to the state’s department of environment. They should be approached with caution, due to the powerful kicks they can give with their clawed feet.
Bingil Bay Campground Host Nikita McDowell, who recorded the video footage, was alerted to the swimming cassowary by a guest, who told her it was about 200 meters (656 feet) offshore.
"I ran down and waited for the cassowary to emerge from the ocean, and it must’ve been exhausted as it stood in the shade beneath a tree with its legs shaking for about half an hour," McDowell said.
"Perhaps it entered the ocean around south Mission Beach and was caught by the current or in a rip and swept around to Bingil Bay," McDowell added.
Cassowaries are not overly aggressive, and attacks are rare, according to the Library of Congress. But the animals can do a lot of damage if provoked or angered.
A cassowary killed its owner in 2019 when the man fell on his farm in Florida. The victim was apparently breeding the birds, state wildlife officials said at the time.
Anyone who comes face-to-face with an aggressive bird like a cassowary is advised to back away slowly and put something like a tree or a backpack between themselves and the bird, according to the Queensland government.
This story was reported from Cincinnati.