Volunteer saves life of loon tangled in line
There isn’t an angler out there who hasn’t come across discarded fishing line around a snag or balled up on a shoreline. Recently a Rhinelander man saw firsthand why this line should be properly disposed of.
Joel Flory, who is currently working under contract as a loon researcher for Chapman University, came across an adolescent loon that was clearly in distress while performing his research on Crystal Lake, located near Tomahawk Berry Farm.
“I was standing on the shore looking for the loons that frequent that lake when I heard one enter the water,” said Flory. “I knew something was wrong immediately.”
Loons typically to not venture onto land, as they are awkward on their feet and can be an easy victim to predators. This small loon entered the water and, as it began to swim away leisurely, Flory spied it with his binoculars. He saw what the problem was-glistening mono-filament fishing line was wrapped tightly around the bird’s bill and head. It couldn’t open its bill. Knowing he needed to do something, Flory launched his canoe and attempted to get close enough to the loon to bring it aboard. The effort proved futile, and Flory then borrowed a landing net from a fisherman on the lake. He netted the loon, and with the fisherman’s assistance, used his pocket knife to cut away the line from the loon without doing any additional damage. He believes he was lucky to come across the bird when he did.
“I would guess that the loon only had the line wrapped around it for a couple days at the most, but you could tell it was already getting weak,” he said. “Even after the line was off, it swam away very slowly. That was probably a pretty close call for that bird.”
While this instance was the first time Flory has come across a loon in danger because of fishing line, the problem happens more than most realize, according to Marge Gibson, the Executive Director of the Raptor Education Group in Antigo.
“Last year alone we treated four loons that had line wrapped around their heads, and saw several chick fatalities because of fishing line,” said Gibson. “It is heartbreaking to see, especially since its avoidable.”
Gibson said that often anglers will either hook a loon while its diving, or the loon with take live bait under a bobber. She said that if an angler ever has that situation, the best thing for the bird is to try to bring it into the boat and remove the hook and line completely. Anglers should avoid cutting the line at all costs.
“If the line is cut, it can wrap around the bird very easily,” said Gibson. “Sometimes the line even can get wrapped around submerged objects, not allowing the bird to get back to the surface.”
Gibson said she is passionate about the issue because she’s seen first hand repeatedly the kind of damage discarded line can do to wildlife. She implored anyone coming across discarded line to dispose of it as quickly as possible.
“The best thing to do is either burn it or cut it into small peices,” she said. Even throwing it in the trash can be bad, because it will end up exposed in a landfill, where birds and small animals can carry it away. The stuff works so well for fishing, but it can be so deadly for wildlife.”
Flory said that the bird he encountered was lucky that he was able to secure a landing net and that the angler was available to help. Most birds in that situation wouldn’t be so lucky. According to research from Dr. Jim Paruk, the Loon Program Director for the Biodiversity Research Institute in Maine, 60 percent of all non-natural loon deaths are a result of fishing, and more than half of those are from discarded line.
“If anglers would just pick up after themselves, it wouldn’t happen,” said Flory. “Just use common sense.”