By Kelly Cuculiansky
NEW SMYRNA BEACH, FL– As a Marine Discovery Center boat floated past an island with birds perched on branches, one lonely brown pelican struggled on the ground.
Passengers, who were enrolled in the Florida Master Naturalist Program on coastal ecosystems, had learned in past weeks how important it is to properly dispose of fishing line.
And on Wednesday afternoon, they saw why. With the boat anchored near the island, three passengers quickly tromped through the shallow Indian River Lagoon to shore. Though most birds flutter away at the sight of humans balancing in the foul mud, the pelican tangled in monofilament didn’t have a choice.
At a quick and quiet pace, Debra Marsicano, education coordinator for the Marine Science Center, draped a towel over the pelican’s eyes so Chad Truxall could treat the injured bird. As she held the pelican’s beak, Truxall, education director for the Marine Discovery Center, found a fishing hook in the bird’s wing.
With the help of Lou King, the center’s education assistant, the trio held the pelican still and removed the fishing line and the hook with pliers.Pained by the injury, the pelican escaped into the water and held its wounded wing up as it floated away. Onlookers in the boat cheered.
Marsicano said the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet sees similar cases almost every day.
“Fishermen think they should just cut the line, but that’s almost a death sentence,” she said.
Once the tangled bird reaches an island, the animal will become further tangled in vegetation and can starve to death. At least two dead birds on the island met such a fate, Marsicano said.
“Death is imminent once they roost for the night,” she said. “They get tangled and they can’t pull away.”
Brown pelicans often are caught in fishing line because they are opportunistic, lingering too close to anglers for a meal. Feeding them only will encourage the birds to stay in the area.
The ideal situation is to reel the bird in if it has become caught on a line and remove the hook and monofilament, which can take hundreds of years to decompose.
Anglers should hold the bird’s beak and have a towel handy to cover its eyes and hold its wings to safely remove the hook.
For those who are not comfortable or are unsuccessful removing a hook or monofilament, there are drop-off cages at the Marine Science Center’s seabird rehabilitation sanctuary.