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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“Coming Together”

FB_BlogMG_8133_Dec2013Plenty of rescue stories come through the door at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport that volunteers and staff repeat over and over again because they bring us joy and an opportunity to recall the 2nd chances we help make happen. But sometimes a wildlife memory is produced at the shelter that has nothing to do with an injured or distressed animal admitted to our clinic. In this season of giving and reflecting, it’s a great time to share this once in a lifetime story, so let me tell you one of our favorite memories. If there exists such a thing as a normal, or let’s say routine day at our wildlife shelter, especially in the winter, it would be one of manning the phones and admit desk, examining incoming patients, preparing specie specific diets for delivery at meal time, administering medications, cleaning and disinfecting kennel cabs, sweeping, mopping, taking out the trash, locking every patient in for the night and setting the alarm. If there’s a moment of down time in all of that, the small crew of two or three rehabilitators come together to discuss patient care or the latest happening in each of our lives over a spot of afternoon tea in the humans’ kitchen. One winter day started ‘average’ enough, but turned out to be anything but routine. We witnessed an “in the wild” incident so rare it begged for a camcorder bolted to the top of a helmet, similar to those worn during extreme sports or the super bowl, which I should surely be required to wear while tending to tasks at the wildlife shelter. Of course, no one at the shelter wears one, but without videotape, who will fully appreciate or believe our story without seeing it play out for themselves. Still shots can only do so much but here goes.  Passing through the kitchen, I stopped to watch the over wintering hummingbird hover near the nectar feeder outside the window. My hummingbirds at home in Jacksonville packed up and left for Brazil or Costa Rica months ago, but this little chubby guy was still hanging tough in our 40-degree weather. At the same time, a Great Blue Heron passed over the building, straight as an arrow, his long thin legs dangling after him like the tail of a kite. I ran to the gift shop window to see if he was coming down to our pond. Although Herons find swampland more suitable at mealtime, they visit our pond occasionally, and he did. I didn’t know if he would stay long, though. Being solitary hunters, the presence of so many ducks and geese may prove annoying for the lanky fisherman. I yelled for Maria to come watch and through binoculars we saw him gracefully move into position behind the bare limbs of a bush whose roots drink from the pond. With head lowered, he stalked all movement under the water and despite twenty geese paddling over to nose into his business, within minutes his head shot into the pond, catching a six-inch Bluegill with his spear-like bill. He immediately took flight over the building with the fish tightly clamped in his mouth, so we hurried to the back window to see him go. By the time we reached clear pane, he was turning around and heading back toward the pond with no fish. The fish was way too wide to swallow whole in flight, so we figured the large, gray seabird dropped the fish, but wondered why he didn’t just come down and get it? Maria and I decided to go outside and look for this fish out of water. If it were still alive, we’d throw him back in the pond. Come on, it’s what we do. Donned in puffy vests we spread out and walked toward the aerial path taken by the Heron. “Stop. Don’t move,” Maria whispered loudly. Within 25 feet, we stood face to face with a stout and sturdy Redtailed Hawk on the ground, her talons securely embedded in the fish the Heron accidentally dropped, or quite possibly, the aggressive, territorial bird of prey caused the Heron to drop it. We will never know for sure, but something told us it was probably the latter. With her mouth open, the Redtail, North America’s largest hawk, looked at us, then down at the fish and back at us. Since her eyesight is eight times more powerful than a human’s, we knew she was seeing us and our intent much more clearly than we were seeing her. We backed away slowly and like a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, the heavily built Redtailed Hawk lifted to a sturdy pine branch, Bluegill in tow and proceeded to dine on fish.  RB_BlogRedtailDec2013We weren’t sure if she’d ever eaten fish before, as they usually feed on small rodents and an occasional snake or frog. After watching her tear into her alleged stolen food for a few minutes, we went back to the gift shop window and found the Heron, planted and waiting patiently in the same fish blind he’d used before. The geese had lost interest in his presence. It only took a few more minutes until the Great Blue surfaced an even bigger Bluegill, at least 8 inches, which he toyed with a bit before seriously making short work of his lunch. Even in nature, good karma is present (at least for the Heron . . . not so much for the fish). This extraordinary experience was compelling, absolutely powerful and took all of ten minutes or less. Those precious moments were a once in a lifetime “coming together” of Heron, Hawk and Humans. Though brief, a strong message was sent and well received . . . . We should all be walking life’s journey fully awake.

MERRY  CHRISTMAS  EVERYONE!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All