Three Hooks in a Gull (*Not for the faint of heart, but with a happy ending!)
Sometimes it is hard to look on the bright side of things. Especially with a job as a wildlife rehabilitator where we see all kinds of suffering. But, there certainly can be pleasant surprises at Wild Care. On a Sunday afternoon a few calls came in for a Great Black-backed Gull on a beach in Dennis Port. There was a hook in its mouth and it seemed unable to move. This caring caller said it had been eating a piece of fish and she was willing to stay with the bird while I looked for a volunteer to rescue it. Elena Calabrese – one of our wonderful rescue volunteers – was available, and once again willing to drop everything she was doing, to try and save yet another animal’s life! What would Wild Care do without her?
The gull arrived and Elena told me it was badly entangled in fishing line. I was the only rehabber on at that moment. Before COVID-19, Elena would often assist with examining the animals she rescued, but now protocols have changed. The Sunday clinic volunteer, Drue Spencer, who spent the past few months cleaning up after our patients, was about to be initiated into an animal restrainer role. It is important that a bird caught in line and tackle doesn’t make it’s injuries worse by flapping and flailing. I gave a quick handling lesson using my Crow puppet and we began the exam. This poor bird! Its beak, wing and foot were tightly tethered together with three separate hooks and fishing line. I cut the hook in its mouth to relieve the pressure on the rest of the line. Its head was finally free. I was able to follow the line under the wing and found the foot which looked like it was shredded. Then I followed that line to its belly—- UGH! Another hook and what appeared to be a disembowelment! Very gruesome. This bird definitely needed to be anesthetized before proceeding with the exam, to minimize pain and stress. We both took a deep breath. Drue was excited to have helped with more than laundry but had to leave. She phoned me the next day to ask for the outcome.
With the bird sedated, I could examine it thoroughly. I cringed when I lifted the wing to see the evisceration. ‘’Another sad euthanasia’’ I thought to myself… Ha! The joke was on me. The bait was still on the hooks, and that was what I was seeing! Not gull guts! The hooks were embedded in three different places, but they were all able to be removed simply in a few minutes. The shredded foot I had seen was just adhered fish bait and I assume the fish the caller had witnessed the bird eating was also the bait on the hooks.
The gull had only been tangled for a short while and was otherwise in good condition. The hooks were new and shiny. He recovered very quickly.
With a short course of antibiotics, good food and good gull company in our big aviary, Elena returned this lucky gull back to his territory in Dennis Port, 13 days later.