Fishing line, hooks main explanation for brown pelican deaths, officers say


Brown pelicans’ habitats are disappearing

Jordan Bowen reports

Fishing hooks and line tangles are just a few factors driving fishing rod decline brown pelican population. Rescuers said it had almost grown to worrying levels, with man-made threats now the leading cause of death in brown pelicans.

In a recent rescue, an X-ray showed where a pelican had swallowed a fish hook. Another disturbing image shows a pelican with a hook near its eye. Thankfully, it was safely removed and the Pelican is fine, but overall, advocates said those rescues have grown to amazing levels.

“This is really frustrating and gives us great concern for the stability of the pelican population in Tampa Bay,” said Friends of the Pelicans Vice Chair Kim Begay.

According to Begay, line tangles and fish hooks are the leading cause of death in brown pelicans. The Skyway Fishing Pier, one of the longest in the state, is the epicenter of the troubles.

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Previous bouts of Red Tide wiped out much of the food source, causing them to flock to the pier to forage, but due to its configuration, rescuing them if they become tangled can be dangerous.

“You can’t get the pelican onto the pier to help it if you tangle it, so a lot of people cut the line,” Begay said. “And then the pelicans fly away with a great amount of line dangling, and then they go to the roost and they sleep in the mangrove colonies and get tangled and end up hanging there.”

Video of a pelican shows a hook attached to its leg, which a rescuer later helped unclip.

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Audubon Florida and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) are preparing to launch a new study in which pelicans near the skyway will be fitted with plastic bands – each with a number. Officials will be able to track their movements at scale, and researchers will gain one of the most accurate insights yet into what’s happening to their population as a whole.

“If they find a dead person, they will document it, how many times it’s been hooked, if it hasn’t been checked, how it’s doing, if it’s a juvenile, if it’s starving and has to go to rehab. All of that will provide very useful data,” Begay said.

The population tracking program is scheduled to begin sometime next year.

If you see a pelican in distress, call the FWC hotline at 1-888-404-3922.