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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Turtles On The Move!

Turtles are more complicated than they look, and getting to know each species of turtle that calls North Carolina home is a challenge for staff and volunteers at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter (OWLS) in Newport, NC. Turtles come in different shapes (although they all resemble a circle), sizes, coloring, capabilities and live in a variety of habitats. They represent the oldest of all living reptiles, and have undergone little change since their beginnings early in the Triassic period of history. You’ll find turtles throughout North Carolina, from the Coastal Plain to our mountains in the west. Overall, twenty species of turtles, belonging to six different families inhabit North Carolina. Five of these species are sea turtles and one (the Eastern Box Turtle) is terrestrial which means lives primarily on land. The rest are semi-aquatic, inhabiting North Carolina’s ponds, wetlands, and other water bodies. We leave the rehabilitation efforts of sea turtles like Loggerheads and Kemp Ridley’s to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle and Rehab Center crew at North Topsail. They care for the guys and girls who need to eventually get back to the ocean. Our focus is land and semi-aquatic turtles; Box, Yellowbelly Sliders, River Cooters, Bog, Painted, Mud, Spotted, Musk and the Common Snapping Turtle or often referred to as an Alligator Turtle.
Turtles are admitted to the shelter for a variety of reasons. We’ve seen them injured by fishing gear, litter, lawn mowers, by a dog that held it a little too tightly in his jaws, suffering from upper respiratory infections due to environmental pollutants such as pesticides and quite often, hit by a car. The greatest threat to turtles is habitat loss, particularly destruction and degradation of aquatic habitats. The destruction of terrestrial habitat surrounding wetlands and ponds which is required for nesting, and hibernation for some species, poses significant threats, forcing turtles on the move to find new habitat.
Sadly, thousands of turtles are crushed every year by cars on North Carolina’s roads and highways, which brings us to the question of the day regarding turtles and those who care about them. How do you move a turtle out of the road? The first thing you want to do is safely position your car on the side of the road, (with your hazard lights blinking) to ensure you do not put yourself or others at risk while you rescue the turtle. It would be great if you just happened to have a pair of work or rubber gloves in the car but most people don’t. (Just wash your hands after handling the turtle because they can carry salmonella like most other animals, including pet cats and dogs.) Gently pick up a turtle and move it out of harm’s way, in the direction he or she was heading. What you shouldn’t do is pick up a turtle and move it to what you, as a human, deem to be a safe spot. They always have a good turtle reason why they are heading in the direction they are going. This time of year is turtle crossing time because mates need to be found and eggs need to be laid. If it is a sizeable turtle, especially a snapping turtle, you can use a stick, shovel or broom to push it off the road. Never put your hands or feet near a snapping turtle. A snapper has a neck the length you wouldn’t believe and will be able to reach some part of you. Their vice-grip jaws can cause serious injury. Also, never pick up a turtle by the tail. That hold could easily damage their vertebrae. BUT above all, when moving a turtle from potential disaster in the road, please be CAREFUL and DO NOT put your life at risk. Turtle moving only applies when you are driving down a road where YOU CAN stop and move about safely.
You might be wondering why they cross the road in the first place. It doesn’t seem smart when you consider turtle speed versus vehicular speed. They can’t truly make a serious run for it when they finally do see an approaching automobile. Turtles genuinely need to cross the road because, quite simply, they were here before the road was and ancestral mapping is instinctual. So, a turtle trying to cross the road is not heading in the wrong direction. Her instincts are telling her where to go. They cross the road, moving from one body of water to another to find mates, expand territory, find nesting sites, and lay eggs, sometimes pausing to bask on the warm asphalt along the way. Most turtles day-tripping out into traffic are females heading for that predetermined nesting site. Turtles mature slowly, unable to lay eggs before age ten and can live fifty or more years.
Although 2011 is touted “Year of the Rabbit” by the Chinese, conservationists internationally designated 2011 as “Year of the Turtle” due to the fact that many turtle species are now under threat from a range of man-made problems. Turtles are disappearing from our planet faster than any other group of animal, so let’s do what we can to salvage our turtle heritage, wherever we are. Our careful stewardship can help preserve them.

Linda Bergman-Althouse
Author of “Save Them All”
http://www.bergman-althouse.com