Monday, March 19, 2012

The Dangers of Fishing Line and Hooks for Birds and other Wildlife

I see and photograph the most incredible birds and wildlife often and it brings me much joy but there is a flip side to my photography that is saddening, maddening and very disheartening. I don't always see beauty, sometimes I see pain, suffering and death.

Laughing Gull with fish hook in bill and legs too tangled to walk
I recall vividly the morning I spotted this Laughing Gull that it wasn't acting like the other gulls on the beach nearby so I focused on the bird and felt my stomach twist into a knot as it became clear to me that the gull had a fish hook imbedded in its throat and bill. It couldn't close its bill. Then I noticed that its feet were entangled with monofilament fishing line so badly that it could barely walk. About all it could do was shuffle its feet. I wanted to get help for the Laughing Gull but at the time I didn't have a smart phone, I had no access to the internet and I didn't have the number to the park's headquarters. Plus I couldn't capture the bird to take to a rescue group because it could still fly. And when it did fly off the knot in my gut worsened because I knew that without help the gull would soon die. That is such a helpless feeling.

Fishing Lures left on a snag in a tidal lagoon
Monofilament fishing line, lures, hooks, metal leads and weights present huge dangers to birds and wildlife when they are not properly disposed of. Monofilament lines can tangle around the bills, feet, wings, legs and necks of birds which can result in death, amputations of feet, legs and wings and when the line is around the neck the possibility of a slow, painful strangulation.

After photographing these lures I removed them from the snag and disposed of them properly. The snag wasn't in deep water, it only came to my knees and I don't understand why the fishermen didn't wade out and remove it. I can't understand.

White Ibis with foot tangled in fishing line
I can not count the times I have encountered a bird with missing feet or partial amputations of their legs. I have just seen that many.

The fishing line is tangled around the foot so tight of this White Ibis that the foot is extremely swollen and it appeared obviously painful to the bird because it did not place that foot on the ground while I observed it, instead it hopped on the other leg to move on the ground. The Ibis flew off before I could call the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in St. Petersburg to ask for help. Once again I wondered about the face of this beautiful bird.

After my experience with the Laughing Gull tangled in fishing line I had placed the phone numbers for the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary and the park headquarters in my contacts list in my cell phone.

Fishing lure
Quite often fishing lures resemble fish, shrimp or other food items for the fishermen's intended targets, the problem is that these lures often look enticing to birds, mammals and sea creatures. I found this lure while walking along a sandy beach and not only could it have become an item to kill birds or wildlife it could have gotten stuck in the soles of a child's foot who then may not have only been in pain but might have been subjected to Tetanus injections or have developed an infection.

I picked the lure up, placed it in this tree to photograph it and then carried it to a trash receptacle to dispose of it. A pretty simple way of protecting wildlife and people from the dangers of this lure, I wish it were done more often.

Laughing Gull with fishing line & lure in bill
This Laughing Gull had obviously swallowed a hook or a lure and had a long strand of the fishing line hanging from its bill the evening that I photographed it. I was heart broken that before I could call for help a person walked close enough to make the gull fly away. If I could have reached the park rangers or the rescue group they may have been able to throw a net over the bird to capture it, remove the hook and release it. 

Used fishing line container
Many parks and recreation areas have now installed used fishing line containers within easy walking distance to fishing areas where fishing line, weights, leads, hooks and lures can be properly and safely disposed of. I find it sad that even in locations with these containers that I still find fishing line and hooks on the ground presenting dangers to birds, wildlife and people. Is there an excuse for not walking a few feet to get rid of these items in a safe manner? I don't think so.

Double-crested Cormorant in danger
I have been able to aid in the rescue of several birds including the Double-crested Cormorant shown above. I was photographing birds near the Gulf Pier at Fort De Soto when I noticed this bird sitting on the beach. I could see the hook in the bill without using my lens so I knelt down, focused on the bird and could see a metal leader and a lead weight. I could also see that the dull color of this bird's eyes indicated that it was growing weaker. I was able to call Jim Wilson at park headquarters who said he'd be there quickly. I stood guard over the bird so that if people approached it I could ask them to stay far enough away that the bird would not take flight or enter the water. Jim and a few other rangers showed up, captured the Cormorant and got it to the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary where the hook was removed and when the bird was healthy again it was released into the wild.

If you are a fishermen, please dispose of used line, hooks, lures and lead weights properly if at all possible. You could be saving the lives of birds and wildlife and looking after the environment.

They belong on this planet as much as we humans do.

Mia McPherson


  1. Great post, Mia! I hope this educates others to be more careful when fishing. Fort DeSoto is a great place and the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary does an outstanding job.

  2. Michael, I love what the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary does to rehabilitate birds that have been injured, it is a great place. Thanks for your comment.

  3. This is so sad. Thank you for sharing your story and helping other people to learn about how just a little carefulness can save a lot of birds.

  4. I used to fish a lot before my love of photography took over my love of fishing. There's really no excuse for not properly disposing of lines, lures, and hooks. I know sometimes lines get wrapped up in trees, but this can be minimized with careful casting, and even still with some effort people should be able to get their lines down.

  5. Thank you for your timely comments. Unfortunately those who really need to read this post will probably never see it.

  6. Great post- it makes me crazy to see fishing line and hooks on the ground.. I have picked up countless yards of line over the years and glad I'm not the only one. I saw a coot being eaten by a Red-tailed Hawk recently and when the bones were left dangling in a tree I saw a fish hook tangled in the bones. Such a bummer (though I was glad the hawk had avoided it).

  7. Great post Mia! Sad to see the damage people's carelessness causes.

  8. Thanks for the comments everyone. Loose fishing line is a very sad situation,

  9. I'm going to use this post to teach my kids and my Scout troop. If we all work within the sphere of our own influence, we can make a difference.

  10. Robert, that is an excellent idea!

  11. Great post about how little things can make a big difference. Horrible that people leave stuff like this around.

  12. This is so sad. Truely. I feel somewhat better today though having participated in a successful snowy owl rescue yesterday... :)

  13. Oh this is horrible Mia. You photos break my heart!. :'-(

  14. Es horrible y estremecedor. buenas fotos de denuncia.

  15. Very informative post! I always pick up fishing line when I see it! They need to have More of the disposals around!

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