NO GEAR LEFT BEHIND!!!

Blog&FB_2015Aug_IMG_0469_edited-1People love to fish and so do wildlife! The big difference between humans and wildlife is wild animals do not need nets, fishing line, lures, hooks or plastic bags when fishing. Therefore, they leave nothing behind that will harm or kill anyone or anything. Left behind fishing gear kills! Wildlife Rehabilitators at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport know this all too well and cringe every time a seabird, wading bird, grazing bird, mammal or turtle is admitted due to the ingestion or entanglement of fishing litter. It’s so painful for the animal and in many cases renders them unable to eat which leads to starvation. Sometimes the devastation is less obvious and can not been seen without x-rays because the animal has swallowed a hook or lure. This type of injury is so frustrating and heartbreaking to wildlife care givers because it is human-caused and therefore, preventable. Nets, lines, hooks, crab pots, shrimp traps or any other fishing equipment abandoned by a boater or someone fishing on shore is considered derelict gear, which labels a fisherman or woman neglectful and irresponsible. This type of dangerous litter is usually made of plastic and doesn’t decompose in water for possibly hundreds of years. Recently, a mature Red Eared Slider was admitted to our shelter who had tried to swallow not one but two fishing hooks. We managed to carefully remove the three pronged hook with bait still attached from his mouth without too much trouble or damage to tissue, but the long, single pronged hook was so embedded in the roof of his mouth and out the side of his cheek, it required a committee discussion on how best to go about getting that out with minimal damage or killing the turtle. Blog&FB_2015Aug_IMG_6413He may not have been noticed or made his way to us if he had become entangled in the line attached to the hooks. Turtles are air-breathing reptiles. When they are caught underwater on a line or in a net, they will drown because they are unable to reach the surface for air. When an animal is entangled in fishing line that has no give, the line wraps tighter and tighter around a leg, wing or neck constricting the blood flow and functionality of the organs, blood vessels and muscles in that area. A fish hook that an animal desperately tries to remove causes lacerations and tears leading to blood loss, serious infections and limited function in the area affected. Some animals, such as pelicans, live with the discomfort of an imbedded fish hook in their body for long periods of time. We know this because hooks have been found in the backs, underbelly or legs of pelicans during examinations for other conditions such as wing fractures or frost bite. Some seabirds have even been found struggling to free themselves from each other because they have become entangled together by a fishing line or multi-hooked lure that was carelessly discarded by a fisherman. During the birds’ struggle they create even more injury to their legs and wings as well as possible nerve damage. Birds and other wildlife that become entangled will experience strangulation, starvation, amputation and in many cases, death. Entanglement is a slow and vicious killer! Because monofilament fishing line is transparent, it poses serious risk to all life, including human swimmers and divers who encounter it.

Photo by John Althouse

Photo by John Althouse

The negative impact of fishing gear waste is huge. Research tells us that the overall populations of seabirds have declined 69.6 percent, which is a loss of about 230 million birds in 60 years. “Seabirds are particularly good indicators of the health of marine ecosystems and when we see this magnitude of seabird decline, we also see something wrong with marine ecosystems.” This information gives us an idea of the devastating and overwhelming impact humans are having on wildlife and our environment. So for those of us who care, what can we do to improve the quality of life for wildlife and our aquatic environment? Get the word out, first and foremost! Do not accept the very little thought given to snapping a line when a fisherman’s lure is stuck on something. In your travels along beaches and recreational waterways, do the birds and other animals a huge favor by looking around trees and shrubs and notice how much fishing litter is strewn or snagged in vegetation, then carefully remove it and dispose of it properly. If you are the fisherman, always take all line and fishing gear with you when you leave. Blog&FB_2015Aug__Fishing gearRemovedX_edited-1The best way for anglers to reduce hookings and entanglements is to avoid casting near large seabird concentrations. If you are in a boat, move to another area. Most piers are large enough for birds to feed in one area, and anglers to fish in another, or take a break – flocks do not usually remain in one area for long. Using barbless hooks or artificial lures whenever possible can also help. Weight fishing lines to ensure the bait sinks rapidly, before birds can dive for it. Don’t leave fishing lines unattended. Do not feed birds or leave bait exposed because it attracts birds. Take leftover bait home so that birds and other animals don’t get accustomed to free meals. Fish remains are a problem because most seabirds swallow their prey whole. Swallowing parts of fish with exposed bones can cut a pelican’s pouch. Think about starting a program to collect fishing line by constructing and placing collecting bins in the vicinity of your local fishing spots. Please fish responsibly and encourage others to do the same. These are all steps in the right direction for the preservation of our environment and wildlife, as well as public safety. If you encounter an animal that shows signs of entanglement or has been injured in other ways by fishing gear, please call your local wildlife care facility, and they will provide instructions on how to transport the wildlife victim to their center. It’s best not to remove the dangerous fishing gear litter yourself, but to trust the application of a wildlife rehabilitator’s knowledge and skills to ensure damage is not compounded during removal. Let’s do this for our wildlife – they need us!!

BEST ALWAYS,
Linda Bergman-Althouse
author of “Save Them All

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It’s a Murder!

Crow,_American_XXEECrows, members of the Corvidae family, live everywhere in the world except Antarctica and are part of myths and legends in many global societies including American culture. The stories range from comedies to horror and curiously, a flock of crows is referred to as a murder. A folktale explains the reference because it is said that crows will gather to decide the capital fate of another crow guilty of wrong doing. If you’ve heard crows are smart, there’s a whole lot of truth in that because they are among the most intelligent animals on the planet. Many studies and observations support their awesome problem solving skills as well as a few other behaviors also very human like such as recall, memory, gossiping and holding grudges. Researchers in Seattle spent many years banding crows, which the crows were not too happy about, and the humans found that crows never forgot a face. And remember they do, for a very, very long time. Even crows that were never banded would scold and dive-bomb human banders because, it is believed, the bandees “told” the other crows about this horribly unwanted and anxiety producing activity humans engage in and were advised to be wary of certain people and those who associate with them. It is reported that crow assaults and “mobbings” went on for years in that area. Wildlife rehabilitators experience first-hand the savviness and intelligence of the crow. When American Crows or Fish Crows (the smaller of the two), which are the only two crows indigenous to North Carolina, are admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport for treatment, we take precaution to ensure fasteners on their enclosures will be difficult and hopefully, impossible for the crow to figure out. That prevents us from having to look all over the building to find him or her. We also provide enrichment tools and toys because they can get bored in captivity which may cause them to become depressed, and that is not good for recovery. Sometimes we put food inside containers so they have to work to get it out. They enjoy a varied omnivorous diet, so we give them lots of food choices; insects, fish, earthworms, fruits, eggs, vegetables and nuts. In the wild, you may see them dining on frogs, snakes, mice, berries, carrion such as road-kill or even garbage. An adult crow needs about 11 ounces of food daily, so they are adaptable and consummate opportunists. As scavengers they often associate with other hunting animals to take advantage of unguarded or abandoned prey carcasses. When you think about it, humans are some of those hunting animals who exploit the environment and tend to leave waste behind, so it’s only natural to find crows wherever you find people. In the way of description, there’s not much to tell that you don’t already know. They are black, all black; feathers, beak, legs, feet, talons, even their tongue is blue-black in color. Some people consider this big, black bird scary while others describe them as elegant. They measure 16-21 inches in length and the tail takes up 40% of that measurement. Their wingspan extends 33 to 39 inches. Males tend to be larger than females. The flight of the American Crow is swift but prolonged and performed at great heights, although they are also very comfortable on the ground. Its gait, while on the ground, is lofty and graceful, with the progression being a calm and composed walk, although it occasionally hops when excited. Crow,_American_ECrows are very social, caring creatures and have tight-knit families. Older crow siblings take on the responsibility of care for younger siblings. They roost in huge numbers, in the thousands in some areas, to protect themselves from enemies like Red-Tailed Hawks, Great Horned Owls and raccoons. Crows also, amazingly, use at least 250 different calls; however, the sound we are most familiar with is the rapid caaw-caaw-caaw. That call is unmistakable. Their distress call brings other crows to their aid, as crows will defend unrelated crows. Crows are monogamous, mate for life and raise their young for up to five years. Their nests are formed externally of dry sticks, interwoven with grasses, and plastered with mud or clay while lined with roots and feathers. They lay four to six eggs of pale green spotted with purplish-grey and brownish-green. In our region they may raise two broods a season but further north, seldom more than one. Both sexes incubate, and their parental care and mutual attachment are not surpassed by any other bird. The average life span of the American Crow in the wild is 7–8 years, but captive birds are known to have lived up to 30 years. There’s a lot to admire about the crow. The crow is extremely courageous when encountering any of its winged enemies and appears to find pleasure in outwitting and teasing them. They also are known to use tools just like humans, chimpanzees and elephants do. When contending with unfamiliar tools, they use common sense to come up with ways to make them work. Studies show crows work together to protect their flock, hunt and have been observed overtly sharing food. A crow family can eat 40,000 grubs, caterpillars, ants, worms and other insects in one nesting season. That’s a lot of insects gardeners and farmers consider troublesome. These great environmental citizens also transport, distribute and store seeds, thus propagating forest renewal. Their habit of eating carrion makes them part of nature’s cleanup crew. So let’s give crows the “props” they deserve for being impressive environmental partners. Crows might have a scary reputation, but the most frightening thing might be how much they know about us and how little we know about them!

Best Always,

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of, “Save Them All”

www.bergman-althouse.com