top of page
  • Writer's pictureBrice Claypoole

Saving Pelicans

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Just before 1:00 PM, we finished packing water bottles and snacks into the car and headed to the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier. When we arrived, it was so foggy we couldn’t see the middle of the Skyway bridge. At the pier, we met up with volunteers from Friends of the Pelicans. They had already caught a pelican! Why was a group called Friends of the Pelicans capturing the birds? Because their mission is to catch and rehabilitate injured pelicans. And our mission was to film the process and bring awareness to this issue.

Volunteers from Friends of the Pelicans remove fishing line and hook from a pelican’s mouth, before sending it to a rehabilitation center to try and heal its injuries.

After the first pelican had been deemed un-releasable and loaded into a truck headed for a rehabilitation center in Venice, things were calm for awhile as we peered through the fog looking for injured birds. Soon a pelican with fishing lines trailing from it emerged. On tall piers, you can’t just reel a pelican in because the hooks will rip its beak and flesh on the way up. You need to use a cast net when pulling in a pelican from a long way in the air.

The cast net is thrown over two injured pelicans.

A pelican caught in the net is brought up.

We lured the injured bird into range and the cast-netter got ready. He hurled the net outward and down it came on the pelican. Most of the gathered pelicans flew up and out, but the injured one was caught. Friends of the Pelicans has only one cast-netter, which is not enough for this huge problem. If you know how to cast-net, please consider volunteering for Friends of the Pelicans to become a pelican hero! You can message them at

First, a towel was put over the head of each captured bird to keep it calm. Each bird was inspected carefully. Their wings were felt for broken bones. The barbs were cut from the hooks stuck in their beaks and flesh, allowing the rest to be easily removed. Their feet were checked for holes. Fishing lines were disentangled from their bodies. A different colored tag was put on each one’s leg based on its injuries. Bird after bird was too sick, injured, or underweight (from having hooks in their mouths and throats that stopped them from eating properly) to be released and they were put into a cage and loaded into the truck.

A pelican waits in a cage to be taken to a rehabilitation center.

Soon, a volunteer boat came into the end of the pier with three more birds. After that, we could barely keep up with the stream of injured birds. “There’s one over there with line trailing from it.” “Over there! That one’s got a fishing lure in its neck.” “Another one, there!”

We got nine pelicans in all. Eight of them had to be taken to the bird hospital. Finally, we came to a pelican that just needed a little work, and could be released immediately!

Why are all these pelicans injured? And how can you help if you’re not a cast-netter or a wildlife rehabilitator?

The main injury these pelicans had was fishing hooks stuck in them. This happens when a pelican is caught by a fisher who doesn’t know what to do and cuts the line. If you hook a pelican (or another bird), Never Cut the Line! If you cut the line, the bird will fly home to a mangrove island, where the fishing line will get tangled in the trees. The pelican will be unable to escape and starve to death. Instead of cutting the line, cut off the hook’s barb and back the hook out of the bird. If you hook a bird from a bridge or another tall structure, to avoid hurting it, don’t reel it in. Instead use a cast net or call a licensed wildlife rescuer to do it for you.

Another problem that leads to pelicans being injured is getting fed. When pelicans are fed, they start associating humans with food and beg from fishers, sometimes going for the fish on the hooks. This puts them at far higher risk for entanglement and getting hooked.

Thank you for taking the time to educate yourself on how to save these beautiful, wonderful, and, admittedly, kind of clumsy birds!

An American white pelican takes flight! (All photos by Brice Claypoole)

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page