Seabirds routinely get hooked on fishing lines, often causing slow and painful deaths. Here are some tips from FWC on how to safely unhook one if caught.

Feeding fish carcasses to a pelican allows for bones to poke through the birds’ throat pouches.(Photo: Courtesy of Wild Florida Rescue)

Pelicans with fish hooks dug into their skin. Lines tangled around their feet and fish bones puncturing their throat pouches.

Heather Pepe sees all of this and worse during her work as rescue team leader for Wild Florida Rescue

From Cape Canaveral to Sebastian Inlet, Pepe sees pelicans and other seabirds dying slow agonizing deaths caused by discarded fishing gear. She and her organization try to rescue them, something that isn’t always possible. 

“It can be avoided,” she said. “If somebody catches a bird, and they just cut the line, the bird is sure to have a really slow, awful, doomed death.” 

The dead and injured birds are everywhere, Pepe said. Even on a day off, she finds that recreational time on the water turns into rescue work when she finds pelicans hanging by fishing lines or worse. 

And fishing lines themselves are far from the only problem, Pepe said. 

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Pelicans have evolved to swallow fish whole, collecting the slippery meals in their pouches and gulping them down. When fishermen throw fish carcasses with bones jutting out, thinking they’re giving the birds a free snack, those bones can unexpectedly poke through their throat pouches. 

“A lot of times the birds have to be euthanized,” Pepe said. 


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