Note: All gulls pictured in this post, and other trapped birds were freed from the netting.
Follow Up on 10/21/11: I phoned today and learned that an official went out to this net, confirmed what we saw in terms of bird entanglement, and holes in the net have apparently been fixed as a temporary measure, although I’m anxious to check up on the gulls myself. I was told the Westport seafood company responsible for these pens is buying new, heavy duty nets to replace this one. It’s not everyday that a wildlife situation like this gets any attention, let alone prompt attention. I’m grateful these circumstances involved some caring officials who are pursuing a solution. Officers clearly have huge priorities in an environment where their employees are already over-taxed with enforcement issues, especially, as I was told, during hunting season. If you happen to be in Westport, down at Float 4, and still see entangled gulls, please let me know and I’ll do my best to follow up.
I told Hugh that since I started working with wildlife, quite a few years ago now, my world has become decidedly darker in many ways. It’s the quandary of being informed but simultaneously understanding the full picture as a result — the many ways in which wild animals are harmed both deliberately and inadvertently. There’s not a day when one issue or another doesn’t point to some form of human intervention, whether it’s on a large scale, like bulldozing habitat for a development, or on a small scale, like a poorly-maintained net. I’m often at a loss to explain human behavior when it comes to the suffering of others. But, it’s situations like this that always remind me how compassionate acts can and must occur on minute levels, however insignificant those efforts may seem in the grand spectrum. There are countless life adages about leaving problems where they lie, so I won’t get trite on you. It stands to reason, though, that all small efforts and choices contribute to the larger whole. And as my blog motto suggests, adding one’s “light to the sum of light” might be the only recourse in a world where so much suffering prevails. It may well be the only thing most of us can do.
The photos here were taken in haste and I now wish I’d had more time to better document the situation. Hugh and I spent last Friday afternoon detangling more than 25 gulls from netting down at the Westport Marina in Washington — gulls of mixed species, including Heermann’s Gulls and various juveniles. We’re both volunteer wildlife rehabilitators in California and have some bird-handling experience. Even then, the task was arduous and required the help of two additional and cooperative fishermen to hold the nets for us. The aging rope was acting like a tourniquet around the wings and feet of the unfortunate and panicked gulls.
This gull was particularly difficult to free. Every time we tried, the net loop would pull tighter around its foot. We finally got enough slack to open the loop and slip its foot through. It’s possible the foot was injured, but the gull could walk and fly, and wasted no time getting off the dock after we released it.
The gulls got themselves entangled while snatching up ailing fish which were floating at the surface of what we were told are anchovy pens. We did our best to contact the proper local people for assistance, to no avail. The gulls were clearly in distress, mangling their wings further as they struggled to escape. I told Hugh that given the state of their entanglement, I was sure we’d be driving home with a backseat full of gulls, en route to a wildlife hospital. But as we freed each of them and gently placed them out of harm’s way, all of the gulls were able to walk and fly without any seeming impediments.
We pulled tight the gaps, hoping to stave off similar entanglement as a temporary measure. Then we then got in touch with the local department of fish and game who will be sending an enforcement officer out to the float to check on the integrity of the nets.
Technically, this is not a derelict net … the ones floating around Puget Sound and the Pacific, ensnaring wildlife along the way. (WDFW has PDF doc explaining derelict net removal.) But the net is derelict in its own way, poorly maintained and clearly an entanglement hazard for protected species of birds. There are programs now dedicated to cleaning up marine debris and derelict nets in the Northwest. I’ll be posting about that soon.
Derelict Fishing Gear
In the interim, please, fisher-peoples … take great care with fishing gear. Nets, hooks and filament entangle many sea birds, marine mammals, turtles and other marine species and cause a great deal of death and suffering. Hugh and I have detangled our share of fishing-line messes, and always carry scissors and gloves when walking on the beach. At one marina in the Bay Area, I saw a group of young fisherman leaving a pier with the day’s catch. Whenever I’m on fishing piers, I always check for littered filament and hooks. As I walked way out onto the dock where they’d had their lines in, I saw they’d left many hooks stuck into the pier railing, all with large chunks of fish wrapped around, concealing the hook. It’s hard not to view that situation as deliberate malice, possibly toward the gulls who would have swallowed those pieces of fish. I disposed of them all.
I’ll be following up with fish and game on this gull issue.
The last time I wrote about an entangled gull, I was too late to help. I’m glad that this time, we could do something.
Related posts: Bay & Beach Flotsam
This is one section of the net — how we found it when we first came upon the gulls.
This is the primary way in which the gulls were getting entangled. They’d drop through a gap in the net, get stuck underneath, then panic and entangle themselves from below while trying to escape.
This adult gull followed the trapped juvenile around the pen as it tried to free itself. I don’t know what the relationship was between the two gulls, but they were together again in the marina, after we freed the young gull.