We all enjoy seeing our beautiful flocks of shorebirds pick up delicious bits from the water’s edge. We often stopped watching a brown pelican diving for food at high speed, breaking the surface of the water, scooping up a fish without breaking its neck.
However, there is another aspect to this wonderful and beautiful spectacle, the thing that causes stress, pain, suffering and often death for the same swans. Pelicans know where the fish are, and this endeavor can often result in contact with fishing hooks or entanglement of line resulting in death or injury.
Joanna Fitzgerald, director of the Von Arks Wildlife Refuge in the Southwest Florida Preserve, has been with the Conservancy for twenty-seven years. During her tenure, injuries from fishing lines and hooks were consistently one of the top four reasons to enter.
The birds most commonly injured by fishing strings and hooks are brown pelicans, royal terns, laughing gulls, double-peaked cormorants and eagles. Joanna added that their goal at von Arx Wildlife Hospital is to care for injured, sick and orphaned wildlife and educate the community on how to prevent these types of injuries.
Educating the community about the dangers of fishing lines and hooks is important because the injuries, suffering, and deaths that result from them are real and so great. With education there is hope to change people’s behavior and Preventing wildlife injuries.
Joanna also believes that there is a misconception on the part of the public, including hunters, that because a facility (Von Arks Wildlife Hospital) provides care for affected birds, the effects on the animal are often minimized.
It is often overlooked. The reality, according to Joanna, is that the bird will tolerate the pain incurred from injuries from hooks and line entanglements, and will still experience stress during the rehabilitation process. And if the injuries are very severe, the bird should be killed euthanized.
According to Joanna, advocacy efforts aim to strike a balance between hunting activities and the needs of wildlife. They want to promote ethical fishing practices and reduce casualties when possible. She wants everyone to remember that “wildlife hunts to survive,” and if they don’t catch fish, they will weaken and die. Most humans practice fishing as a purely recreational sport.
Joanna added that injuries from hunting activities are just one stress and threat that these birds face. Fish shortages due to overfishing, red tides, harmful algal blooms and habitat loss among other factors are increasing pressure on shorebird populations.
At von Arx Wildlife Hospital, brown pelicans are the species they focus on when discussing fishing line injuries and pelican admission numbers have continued to rise annually.
In addition to birds, there are reports of sea turtles and manatees getting caught in fishing ropes. The monofilament often rubs against flesh and bone, cutting off fins, legs, or wings as wildlife tries to break free.
If shorebirds congregate near your hunting ground, choose a different, bird-free location to reduce the risk of accidentally catching birds. also Use non-stick hooks and be sure to use the appropriate test line.
If you pet a pelican, please wrap the bird as gently as possible, cover the head with a towel to calm the bird, and call von Arx Wildlife Hospital in the Conservancy of Southwest Florida at 239-262-2273.