September 12, 2001
By Tai Moses
THE BROWN PELICAN,ponderous on land, is a graceful acrobat in the air, perfectly designed for plunge-diving from heights as high as 60 feet and scooping up fish with its capacious dip-net bill. Air sacs beneath the bird's skin cushion the impact of the landings.
Just off the wharf, I watch a pelican hurtle in a steep,
twisting dive toward the water. It hits with a neat splash
and surfaces, its bill pointing upward to let the seawater
drain out before it swallows its catch whole.
As the bird takes to the air again with slow, powerful
wing beats, I see a 10-foot length of monofilament line
trailing behind it, wrapped around the bird's foot.
Cutting the line after a pelican is hooked is one of the
most disastrous mistakes a fisherman can make.
Monofilament line entanglement is a slow, excruciating
death for birds and other marine life. A casual glance
around the wharf suggests that fishermen aren't doing a
very good job of keeping tabs on this nasty stuff, which
can last for 600 years in the saltwater environment.
Fishing line can be seen dangling on wharf pilings,
snarled on rocks and sticking out of trash cans, where
gulls dig it out and become ensnared.
"People don't seem to have much knowledge that when
fishing line gets wrapped around a pelican, it's a deadly
situation," says Coleen Doucette, rehabilitation manager
at the rescue center in Suisun. "They think when they
cut the line and let the pelican go, all's well with the
world, but that's not true.
"We need to educate the fishermen," she continues. "It's
critical that when they're fishing they're not fishing in
the same spot that the birds are."
Pelicans in Peril
O N FRIDAY, AUG. 31, the city finally acknowledged it
needed help. The resources of Native Animal Rescue
were overwhelmed. IBRRC was filled to capacity with
Santa Cruz's maimed and mutilated pelicans.
The California Department of Fish & Game persuaded
the city to extend its temporary closure up to Stagnaro's
Bay Cruises, about three-quarters of the wharf. New
bright-green laminated signs replaced the makeshift
white pieces of paper.
"Due to unacceptable numbers of injuries to pelicans,
this area is designated as Temporary No Fishing Zone,
Municipal Code 9.66.050." (Fortunately. someone
noticed that the code section quoted regulates ocean
water sports and soon pasted it over with the marginally
more appropriate Muni Code 13.04.011, which limits
hours of operation.)
Next to the lifeguard's orange signs and NAR's yellow
ones, the wharf looked pretty colorful. Even splashier
were the bright fin flashes from the silver badges of
uniformed Fish & Game wardens and city park rangers
patrolling the wharf.
More than a few fishermen met the wharf closures with
"The wharf has been here for 90-something years, and
it's been a fishing wharf and it's going to stay a fishing
wharf," said Larry, a longtime wharf denizen who
wouldn't give his last name. "The pelicans, they're the
ones that are doing it, they're flying into the line. My
opinion is I don't care about the pelicans. This has been
a fisherman's wharf all along. Now a bunch of stupid
birds come along, and they want to take over."
Over Labor Day weekend, Venture Questers and NAR
rescued 42 pelicans: of those, 10 died. "Some of them,
the injuries were so bad, the line was around the leg all
the way to the bone," said Molly Richardson.
That weekend, NAR volunteer and avowed acrophobic
Kymber Bonham pulled off a rescue that should have
earned her a spot on Fox's Amazing Animal Rescues.
Traversing the catwalk behind wharf restaurants, she
climbed the narrow wooden ladder to the rooftops
where about 100 pelicans were roosting, among them
numerous birds with old wounds and one dead bird. The
pelican she was pursuing had a gaping bloody hole in its
chest, but it flapped weakly away at her approach. She
succeeded in capturing one pelican, and, holding the
bird with its bill tucked under one arm, she descended
the ladder one hand at a time, resting her weight on a
finger while she stepped from rung to rung
Go to Pelican Network Homepage