The trouble with trebles

Sherlock Holmes has Moriarty.  Wile E. Coyote has Roadrunner.  Superman has Batman now, apparently, with the Dawn of Justice looming.  We all have our nemeses.  Mine is the lowly treble hook.  Peace River Wildlife Center admitted a juvenile brown pelican with a fishing lure stuck in his leg.  That may be a bit of an oversimplification.  This massive device was at least six inches long and had three separate treble hooks jutting out willy-nilly and was sturdy enough to bring down a 747.  (The way I fish, anyway.)  Each of the nine points was imbedded in some part of the pelican’s leg and body, like he had gotten frozen in time while playing some sort of bizarre game of Twister.  He lost, by the way, and I didn’t fare much better.  Every time I got one hook out from under his skin, it would stab me while I was working on the next one.

Normally the best way to remove a barbed hook is to advance the tip out through the skin instead of trying to pull it back out the way it went in.  The barbs can cause much more damage that way.  Once the tip has been stabilized by a pliers or hemostat, the shank or eye of the hook is cut off and the hook is advanced through and out of the lesion.  If the hook is fairly superficial this technique works well, is usually quite quick and can be done with minimal to no anesthesia.  Unless whoever lost their lure was fishing for the Titanic.  I’m not sure what on earth the target species was for this lure, but I’d hate to run into that beast in a dark alley.  (Again, I may not be totally clear on some of the specific details of “fishing.”)  This lure’s hooks were so massive none of my tools could cut through them, so I had no choice but to just pull them out.  I’m not sure who was cussing more at that point—me or the pelican.  If you think pelicans don’t cuss, you have never pulled twelve barbed hooks in succession out of one’s leg.  Yes, you do the math.  There were some multiples where I not only stuck the freed hooks into my own fingers, but got some of them caught back in the pelican’s leg.  Do not try this at home, folks.  I am a professional.

The young pelican is recovering at PRWC despite my best efforts.  Upon admission he had a bad infection in his leg where the deepest hook was imbedded.  He is on antibiotics for his wounds and had been being force fed to get his strength back up.  He is now starting to eat on his own and beginning to place more weight on his injured leg.  He is in an outdoor enclosure, out of view of the public, with another pelican and they have become quite chummy.  His roommate is a white pelican that was admitted suffering from the effects of red tide.  That pelican has made a dramatic recovery and will be released soon.  Not soon enough for the rehabbers who still have to medicate the brown pelican twice a day.  The white peli tries to protect the brown one from us by snapping at our butts when we bend over to treat her little buddy.  When we are finished medicating him, he runs over and cowers behind her as she scowls at us.

We were lucky to get this bird in before permanent damage was done to his leg.  Sometimes we are not so fortunate.  Birds can suffer the loss of a leg or wing from getting tangled in fishing tackle as the line cinches down, restricting blood flow and causing nerve damage.  Birds can even get trapped in a tree or mangrove and die of dehydration, starvation and exposure, especially when they are out over water and difficult to reach for rescue or unseen until it is too late.  When fishing, please try not to leave any fishing tackle behind.  If your line gets caught in a branch, make every effort to retrieve it.  If you cannot reach it or untangle it, do not cut the line at the pole as that will leave a long piece of nearly invisible line for all manner of wildlife to get entangled in.  Using gloves or a piece of fabric wrapped around your hands, pull on the line until it snaps, hopefully as close to the tree as possible.

It is not the Dawn of Just Us.  Our Gulf coast community is lucky to have an abundance of wildlife and many of us enjoy it in different ways.  If we all respect each other and the wildlife, we can continue to delight in the very special nature of this unique area for many generations to come.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM