Don’t Get Hooked

15.3637 WEGU1aFishing line and hooks prove dangerous to wildlife

By Staff Veterinarian Dr. Lorraine Barbosa

While most typically animals arrive to us with injuries or illnesses that are relatively obvious, occasionally we get in an animal that appears on the outside to be completely normal. This happened recently with a juvenile Western Gull. Although on physical exam he appeared to be generally ok- no broken bones, good eyesight, no external injuries, and very bright and strong, we knew that a bird like this should not be able to be easily caught and brought to us if it were completely healthy. So, x-rays were taken to screen for abnormalities, and we discovered that he had a very large hook inside of his ventriculus (stomach).

Fishing line and hooks can be very dangerous to birds and unfortunately such injuries are common in seabirds. Birds may become entangled in fishing line, which can prevent them from walking or flying due to the entanglement itself, or can get caught on vegetation or protruding substrates, trapping the bird and causing them a slow death by starvation. Line embedded in a bird’s flesh can act as a tourniquet, preventing blood flow to the affected area, and lead to the loss of a leg or wing, and hooks left in flesh can lead to infection. Birds may also swallow fishing hooks, which can become embedded in the GI (gastrointestinal) tract, and become more acutely life-threatening, while the fishing line remaining on the hook can cut deeply through the flesh and cause a bone infection.

Luckily for this particular bird, the hook was with within the ventriculus and not yet embedded. Once he was stabilized with food and fluids, surgery was performed. The hook was removed via a procedure called a ventriculotomy, and the gull recovered smoothly.

Unfortunately, not all of our entangled patients are so lucky. This year so far, we have seen 23 birds with fishing hook and line injuries. Thirteen have survived. And the saddest part is that these injuries are completely preventable. So if you too want to help save seabirds before they even come in to CWC, we encourage you to do these 3 simple things: 1. If you or anyone you know enjoys fishing, please proactively spread the word about the importance of collecting all fishing gear and disposing of it properly, 2. If you find abandoned fishing gear, please pick it up, and 3. Please help remind people to refrain from feeding seabirds, as it increases their exposure to the inherent dangers of fishing hooks and lines. Who knows, you may end up saving a life!