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Do you know what to do if you hook a pelican?

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Photo by C. Frank Starmer

Catch fish, not pelicans! With just a little extra attention to your surroundings, you and your pelican friends can both have a great day out on the water.

The brown pelican is now a common sight on the coasts. Pelicans eat smaller fish that are not preferred by recreational fishermen and that are not commercially important. Pelicans are protected by federal and state laws.

A brown pelican’s keen eyesight allows it to spot fish from high in the air. Plunge-diving for fish is their specialty. After surfacing and draining water from its pouch, the pelican swallows its well-deserved catch. Even though pelicans are large birds with broad wingspans, their feathers and hollow bones are very light, exquisitely designed for agile and expert flight.

Entanglement in fishing gear may be their number one enemy, leading to slow death from dehydration and starvation. Bony fish scraps are also a killer, tearing the pouch or lodging in the throat. Feeding pelicans draws them to fishing areas and puts them in danger. Shorebirds, storks, herons, terns and gulls are also casualties. We can all help keep pelicans alive and healthy.

Audubon Florida has produced a handy brochure that gives step-by-step instructions for safely removing a fishing hook from a pelican or other shore bird. Print it out and keep one in your tackle box… Just in case!