A pelican being treated by Friends of the Pelicans Volunteers, note the bottle of medicine being held in the background.
“I’m not sure which one,” I say, but that’s when I see it. The pelican has an injured foot. I can see blood, but I can’t tell exactly what the problem is. I’m standing with a group of pelican rescuers from Friends of the Pelicans, the rescue group charged with the huge task of capturing and healing the injured pelicans at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier. We’ve been scanning the crumbling remains of the other side of the old Bridge, the side that was deemed too unstable to be used as a pier, for a while now. It’s where the pelicans like to hang out. We’re eyeing up our next target a poor youngster with a hurt foot. This is a less common injury. Most injuries are from hooks and the attached entangling lines. Our last patient had been one of these. We could see a line trailing from it.
The cast net is thrown over two injured pelicans.
Once we had the bird, we realized it was worse than we thought. The pelican had a treble hook-like contraption consisting of six hooks in its side. When we finally got it out, a bleeding wound was left behind. Medicine was poured onto the wound and the pelican writhed, apparently in pain. After the wound was treated, despite the dramatic procedure, the bird was able to be released! It was held over the side of the pier, then it launched itself into the air and flapped down into the water to join its friends!
Back to the bird with the foot injury. It, as with many of the injured birds, was reluctant to come near. After quite a while, it flew over and landed near us. One volunteer was instructed to throw a large fish up and down to attract it, while the cast netter hid behind a car and approached the distracted bird. I couldn’t see the cast netter but soon the net flew with perfect accuracy out from behind the car and caught the bird. Once the foot had been inspected, the rehabilitation center was called to determine what to do. The decision was made that the pelican would have to be taken into rehab for its foot to heal, otherwise simply stubbing its toes could cause it to bleed too much. Soon the pelican was put into a small cage and loaded into the back of a car and taken to a rehabilitation center.
All this pain and suffering on the part of the pelicans is unnecessary. Fishing can be done without harming the birds. Follow these steps while fishing:
1. Don’t feed the birds, as this makes them want to come in contact with fishermen and women more, increasing the chance of getting hooked.
2. If you hook a pelican, never cut the line! If you cut the line, the bird will fly back to its tree to sleep that night. There the line will likely get so entangled in the tree that the pelican can’t escape and starves. Instead of cutting the line, reel the pelican in and cut the barb from the hook, then back the hook out of the bird.
3. If you’re on a tall pier like the Skyway Fishing Pier, reeling in a pelican from such a height could tear its flesh and cause more damage. The solution is to use a cast net to catch the bird from high up.
4. Donate to bird rescue and rehabilitation organizations! They need our help to save the pelicans that do get injured. There are so many pelicans coming in right now that they are running out of space and materials. They need money to be able to handle all the injured birds they get.
Thank you everyone who reads this article for educating yourself on how you can help! We need people like you if we are to solve this problem and save our pelicans.