Guest column: Protecting our pelicans: Responsibility in all our hands

Part of The Conservancy's public educatiion  campaign against pelican abuse.

Part of The Conservancy's public educatiion campaign against pelican abuse.

Photo By Brian Tietz.

Photo by Brian Tietz

Photo By Brian Tietz.

By Rob Moher


Conservancy of Southwest Florida

President and CEO

“A wonderful bird is the pelican; his bill can hold more than his belly can ”

This well-known limerick from American poet Dixon Lanier Merritt was inspired by the long, straight bill of the pelican that can hold up to three times more food than its stomach.

Perhaps looking for an easy meal, pelicans are drawn to fishing hotspots, including the Naples Pier. However, as anglers and birds go after the same good catch, the increasingly common and unfortunate result is injury. When a pelican scoops up the same fish hooked by an angler and/or is tangled in fishing line, it faces horrific injuries and even death.

On an almost daily basis, concerned citizens and anglers are reporting and bringing injured pelicans to our von Arx Wildlife Hospital.

In December 2012, the Conservancy admitted four injured brown pelicans. Now the von Arx Wildlife Hospital has seen an influx of pelicans with hook- and line-related injuries. In just the month of December 2013, our staff admitted more than 70 injured pelicans. Many pelicans have been rehabilitated and released. However, 33 birds suffered wounds so severe that they did not survive, while others continue their recovery in our care.

One case in particular serves as a compelling example of the efforts of our community partners, our wildlife team and concerned citizens to help these injured animals. On Dec. 26, we received a call about a live brown pelican hanging from fishing line upside down in a tree near Seagate Drive in Naples. Following an assessment by our wildlife team, we contacted the Naples Fire Department and Davey Tree Service for assistance, and they responded immediately. However, the height and position of the bird made the rescue very dangerous and time-consuming.

The pelican had been hanging upside down, struggling for at least four hours. Our wildlife volunteer Tim Thompson transported the bird immediately to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital for medical treatment. The pelican had several treble hooks embedded in its body; its right wing and foot were wrapped in fishing line. The pelican’s injuries were life-threatening and were treated as a severe trauma case. Thanks to the great work of our community partners, volunteers and expert hospital staff the bird is now recovering.

While this case is a good example how we can work together as a community to treat injured pelicans, we can and need to do better at preventing such distressing situations.

Working with the city, the Conservancy is committed to funding two part-time city staff positions to patrol the Naples Pier, where a majority of the pelican injuries occur, for one year. These trained patrol officers will support our education efforts and assist in the prevention and rescue of injured birds as needed.

Additionally the Conservancy will be placing educational signs at the pier offering anglers information about how to respond should a bird become tangled in a line:

Please fish responsibly and humanely. Use caution when casting your line to avoid snagging a bird.

If you hook a bird and it is in the water, please use the nets to raise the bird up to the pier. Once the bird has been raised to the pier, cover its head to calm it and gently work to expose the barb.

Once the barb is pushed through the skin, cut the barb and back the smooth part of the hook out. Yanking the hook and barb from the bird will cause severe soft tissue damage and pain.

Never cut the line and allow the bird to fly off entangled in line. If the bird has swallowed the hook or the hook is deeply embedded in the bird, do not attempt to remove the hook. Contain the bird and call the wildlife hospital for assistance.

If you need information on how to properly assist an animal in distress, call the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at 239.262.2273. Visit

For brief visual instructions, visit

As a non-profit organization, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida relies on the support of our community to continue our work to protect our water, land and wildlife. Money donations before Jan. 31 are matched 100 percent at In addition, non-monetary donations are appreciated. For more information visit or call 239-262-2273.

As the sign in front of the Naples Pier states, Naples is designated as a bird sanctuary. Let’s continue to work together to prevent injuries to native species, and ensure pelicans and other wildlife thrive alongside the myriad of coastal activities. Protection of our native wildlife is in all our hands.

© 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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