I see and photograph the most incredible birds and wildlife often and it brings me much joy but there is a flip side to my photography that is saddening, maddening and very disheartening. I don’t always see beauty, sometimes I see pain, suffering and death. The dangers of fishing line and hooks for birds and other wildlife are real and damaging.
I recall vividly the morning I spotted this Laughing Gull that it wasn’t acting like the other gulls on the beach nearby so I focused on the bird and felt my stomach twist into a knot as it became clear to me that the gull had a fish hook imbedded in its throat and bill. It couldn’t close its bill. Then I noticed that its feet were entangled with monofilament fishing line so badly that it could barely walk. About all it could do was shuffle its feet. I wanted to get help for the Laughing Gull but at the time I didn’t have a smart phone, I had no access to the internet and I didn’t have the number to the park’s headquarters. Plus I couldn’t capture the bird to take to a rescue group because it could still fly. And when it did fly off the knot in my gut worsened because I knew that without help the gull would soon die. That is such a helpless feeling.
Monofilament fishing line, lures, hooks, metal leads and weights present huge dangers to birds and wildlife when they are not properly disposed of. Monofilament lines can tangle around the bills, feet, wings, legs and necks of birds which can result in death, amputations of feet, legs and wings and when the line is around the neck the possibility of a slow, painful strangulation.
After photographing these lures I removed them from the snag and disposed of them properly. The snag wasn’t in deep water, it only came to my knees and I don’t understand why the fishermen didn’t wade out and remove it. I can’t understand.
I can not count the times I have encountered a bird with missing feet or partial amputations of their legs. I have just seen that many.
The fishing line is tangled around the foot so tight of this White Ibis that the foot is extremely swollen and it appeared obviously painful to the bird because it did not place that foot on the ground while I observed it, instead it hopped on the other leg to move on the ground. The Ibis flew off before I could call the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in St. Petersburg to ask for help. Once again I wondered about the fate of this beautiful bird.
After my experience with the Laughing Gull tangled in fishing line I added the phone numbers for the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary and the park headquarters in my contacts list in my cell phone.
Quite often fishing lures resemble fish, shrimp or other food items for the fishermen’s intended targets, the problem is that these lures often look enticing to birds, mammals and sea creatures. I found this lure while walking along a sandy beach and not only could it have become an item to kill birds or wildlife it could have gotten stuck in the soles of a child’s foot who then may not have only been in pain but might have been subjected to Tetanus injections or have developed an infection.
I picked the lure up, placed it in this tree to photograph it and then carried it to a trash receptacle to dispose of it. A pretty simple way of protecting wildlife and people from the dangers of this lure, I wish it were done more often.
This Laughing Gull had obviously swallowed a hook or a lure and had a long strand of the fishing line hanging from its bill the evening that I photographed it. I was heart broken that before I could call for help a person walked close enough to make the gull fly away. If I could have reached the park rangers or the rescue group they may have been able to throw a net over the bird to capture it, remove the hook and release it.
Many parks and recreation areas have now installed used fishing line containers within easy walking distance to fishing areas where fishing line, weights, leads, hooks and lures can be properly and safely disposed of. I find it sad that even in locations with these containers that I still find fishing line and hooks on the ground presenting dangers to birds, wildlife and people. Is there an excuse for not walking a few feet to get rid of these items in a safe manner? I don’t think so.
I have been able to aid in the rescue of several birds including the Double-crested Cormorant shown above. I was photographing birds near the Gulf Pier at Fort De Soto when I noticed this bird sitting on the beach. I could see the hook in the bill without using my lens so I knelt down, focused on the bird and could see a metal leader and a lead weight. I could also see that the dull color of this bird’s eyes indicated that it was growing weaker. I was able to call Jim Wilson at park headquarters who said he’d be there quickly. I stood guard over the bird so that if people approached it I could ask them to stay far enough away that the bird would not take flight or enter the water. Jim and a few other rangers showed up, captured the Cormorant and got it to the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary where the hook was removed and when the bird was healthy again it was released into the wild.
If you are a fishermen, please dispose of used line, hooks, lures and lead weights properly if at all possible. You could be saving the lives of birds and wildlife and looking after the environment.
They belong on this planet as much as we humans do.