Naturalist hopes loon's deadly fight with fishing gear will draw attention to the harms of litter |  Radio-Canada News

Naturalist hopes loon’s deadly fight with fishing gear will draw attention to the harms of litter | Radio-Canada News

David McIntrye says he still thinks of the cries of a loon echoing over Lee Lake, just west of Pincher Creek – about 200 kilometers south of Calgary – earlier this month.

He says he spotted the loon swimming in a small stretch of open water, the frozen lake encroaching around him.

At first he thought he might have missed his chance to migrate and got stuck.

“Loons can’t take off from, say, a bathtub, they need…a long runway to run on water,” said McIntyre, a retired naturalist and study director at the Smithsonian Institute. . “So I immediately thought that loon was doomed.”

It’s rare to see loons in his area, McIntyre said, so he felt compelled to help.

He studied the bird for several days, using binoculars from the shore, but when the ice froze completely and predators began to take hold, McIntyre and his wife decided to come up with a rescue plan. . Using their knowledge of the lake, they circled the bird and managed to capture it using a vest and rafting gear.

That’s when they discovered the root of the problem.

“I had the bird in my hands and could see the fishing gear that was embedded in its wing.”

David McIntyre says he was surprised by the strength of the loonie. It has taken care to stay away from its beak, which it uses to protect itself. (David McIntyre)

The couple took the bird to a veterinary clinic in Nanton, Alberta, where the Wildlife Conservation Institute of Alberta was brought. His team discovered fishing line wrapped tightly around the loon’s elbow joint, causing nerve damage, tissue breakdown and the spread of infection. . It also had a hook built into its foot.

The wildlife rescue organization determined that the loon’s injuries were life threatening and decided to humanely euthanize it.

“Unfortunately, there’s no way they survived with these injuries,” said AIWC executive director Holly Lillie. “[It] would never again be able to fully extend that wing and fly properly.”


LISTEN | Naturalist Brian Keating explains what happened to the Lee Lake loon:

The last straight line7:45Brian Keating during a loon rescue

When people go fishing, gear like hooks and lines can get caught in sand or weeds, or lost in water – with real implications for wildlife. Our Homestretch Naturalist Brian Keating now joins us with a cautionary tale, centered around the effort to rescue a loon trapped on a lake near Pincher Creek.

The AIWC treats an average of five animals trapped in fishing gear each year, Lillie says, from loons to geese to seagulls. If other types of litter entanglements, such as fences and netting, are included, those numbers rise to 18 last year and 32 in 2020.

Lillie says entanglements are often a death sentence for animals.

“And obviously we unfortunately probably don’t see all of them. You know, I’m sure many die or are attacked before they can be rescued,” she said.

McIntyre says he was heartbroken to learn of the bird’s fate. He hopes sharing his story will encourage people to be more careful with their fishing gear.

Naturalist Brian Keating, a friend of McIntyre, talked about the loonie on The last straight line raise awareness of the impacts of litter and plastic pollution on wildlife.

“I know accidents happen, and gear and hooks get lost, but minimizing the loss of gear, even a seemingly insignificant piece of gear left in a pond or lake, is very important,” said- he declared.

The Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation attempted to save the loon, but the fishing line wrapped around its wing had caused serious injuries. (AIWC)

Impact of waste on wildlife

The Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society has also identified fishing lines and drinking lids – the domed round ones with holes in the middle, which end up around animals’ necks – as the most common litter they see affected. animals.

Director of Wildlife Care and Services Melanie Whalen says they see more than 100 animals each year as a result of interactions with litter.

“The numbers increase slightly each year as the city expands,” she said in an email. “If we factor in food waste as leftover food waste, that number is much higher.”

Throughout her career, Whalen says, she has also seen many diving ducks and loons die of lead poisoning after swallowing lead sinkers or fishing tackle.

Some groups, such as the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation near Lethbridge, Alta., and the Cochrane Ecological Institute, have reported fewer interactions with fishing lines and gear, but find ongoing issues with press string. – that ospreys will use in nests – barbed wire fences and abandoned traps.

Lillie says any litter diverted from the environment will help prevent injury or death to local wildlife.

“There are so many reasons why we need to keep the environment clean,” she said. “It’s good for the animals…and for the overall health of society too.”

In an email, Alberta Fish and Wildlife Enforcement recommended those who enjoy recreational fishing to wrap or tie their used fishing line in a small ball and throw it in the trash.

The agency said the public should never risk their own safety to save wildlife. He recommends contacting local wildlife rehabilitation groups for help.


For more fascinating stories about Alberta wildlife from naturalist Brian Keating, visit his website and check out these stories:

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