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!!

Linda Bergman-Althouse
author of “Save Them All

Bone Breakers

CS_LT_0031CCX_edited-1Sometimes mistaken for an Eagle, the Osprey is a large fish eating bird commonly found along the coast and near freshwater lakes and is the second most widely distributed raptor species in the world behind the Peregrine Falcon.  The Osprey is found everywhere on earth except Antarctica.  It’s not often that Ospreys are admitted to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport because they usually manage to stay above the fray and out of the way of humans.  However, when it does happen, it’s usually a human interference incident, which was the case when two infants were admitted to the shelter a while back.  Their nest, aboard a Virginia boat, was not discovered until the Captain docked in North Carolina. Although adult Ospreys do not handle captivity well, a youngster’s demands focus on food, development and protection which our shelter is very experienced in providing.  Ospreys are brown on top with a bright white underside, dark specks on the wings, and dark bands on the tail feathers. The head is white with a dark mask across yellow eyes, reaching to the sides of the neck. Their beak is black, with a bluish fleshy upper mandible membrane, and their feet are white with black talons. Its toes are of equal length and the talons rounded, rather than grooved, which is something they have in common with owls, including their outer reversible toes.  It is a large raptor, reaching more than two feet in length and 71 inches across the wings.  Male and female Ospreys are very similar in appearance, but the male has a slimmer body and narrower wings. CS_I7Z8422Their wings and legs have adapted over time to enjoy and exhibit great joint flexibility. An example of this limberness occurs when flying towards a bright light such as the sun. They are able to bend the joint in their wing to shield their eyes from the light to aid safety while flying.  In flight, the Osprey’s arched wings and drooping “hands,” give it a gull-like appearance. Their call is a series of dainty chirps described as cheep, cheep or yewk, yewk, but if disturbed by activity near the nest, the call becomes more of a sharp and frenzied whistle, cheereek!   Ospreys have picked up a number of nicknames over the years.  You may have heard them referred to as Sea Hawks, Fish Eagles or Fish Hawks which all come from inferences of keen eyesight, agility, timing, strong talons and expertise in catching fish.  The names have also been attributed because they choose nesting sites near bodies of water that can provide an adequate food supply.  The bird’s common name, Osprey, is derived from the Latin word ossifragus, meaning “a bone breaker.”  Fish make up 99 percent of their diet, so these feathered, aerial bone breakers certainly handle dietary fish bones better than humans do. Occasionally, the Osprey may prey on rodents, rabbits, amphibians, other birds and small reptiles.  Ospreys have vision well adapted to detecting underwater objects from the air. A meal is first sighted when the Osprey is above the water up to 130 feet. The bird hovers momentarily and then plunges feet first into the water.  On occasion, an Osprey will immerse entirely in the water, which is a rare behavior for raptors. With those reversible outer toes, sharp spicules on the underside of the toes, closable nostrils to keep out water during dives and backwards-facing scales on the talons which act as barbs to help hold its catch, they are well suited to be awesome fisher birds. While in flight, the Osprey will orient its catch headfirst to ease wind resistance. Ospreys reach sexual maturity and begin breeding around the age of three to four, usually mate for life and return to the same nesting site every year. CS_IMG_8676_CS_X The nest is a large pile of sticks, driftwood and seaweed built in forks of trees, rocky outcrops, utility poles, artificial platforms provided by preservationists or found on a small offshore island.  The female lays two to four eggs within a month and relies on the size of the nest to conserve heat, but both parents help to incubate. The eggs are whitish with splotches of reddish-brown and are incubated for about five weeks before hatching. Newly hatched chicks weigh in at 1.8 to 2.1 ounces and will fledge in 8 to 10 weeks.  Once the young are hatched, the male Osprey takes responsibility for providing food. When food is scarce, the first chicks to hatch are most likely to survive.  These large, rangy hawks have adapted well around humans and have rebounded in numbers following the 1970’s ban on the pesticide DDT, although still considered a threatened species.The typical lifespan is 7 to 10 years, though individuals can age 20 to 25 years. The oldest recorded wild Osprey lived in Europe and is estimated as reaching the age of thirty. In North America, Bald Eagles are the only major predators of Osprey eggs and juveniles.   However, the more common predation by an Eagle is stealing the Osprey’s catch rather than a family member. Eagles often force Ospreys to drop fish they have caught and steal them in midair.  Watching Osprey tending to their nest and offspring is a wonderful way to spend a morning or afternoon; another way to safely enjoy our coastal wildlife!  Bring your binoculars!

Happy Summer Everyone! 

Linda Bergman-Althouse,

author of  “Save Them All”