Pelicans found with pouches cut

By Steve Estes

Over the course of that past week, wildlife officials have received reports about brown pelicans being cut by knives or other sharp objects across the pouch.

“We routinely see pelican pouches that are torn by fishing hooks, carcasses and lures, but we haven’t seen anything like this before,” said Maya Totman, director of the Florida Keys Wildlife Rescue on Big Pine Key.

Local charter boat Captain Jimmy Sharp Sr. said that he spotted one of the injured pelicans near Venture Out last week and managed to get a net over it to check its condition.

“Once we got in on board, we could see that the pelicans throat pouch had been cut by a knife,” said Sharp Wednesday during a radio broadcast from US 1 Morning Magazine. “The bird couldn’t eat anything. Everything fell right through the slit.”

Had the condition gone untreated, said Totman, the bird would have starved to death.

She took the injured pelican to Dr. Don Harris in Miami who surgically repaired the pelican’s pouch.

She said others weren’t so lucky.

Families that had been fishing at Venture Out reported seeing three dead pelicans that appeared to have slit throat pouches. Totman said she has also received reports from Summerland Key locations, both on Niles Channel Bridge and in the waters beneath.

Totman said that US Fish and Wildlife law enforcement officer Steve Berger had visited Venture Out Wednesday to begin looking into the injured bird issue, but had no report by presstime Wednesday.

Deliberate injury of wildlife is a no-no in these parts, although the severity isn’t yet known.

She said that pelicans appear to suffer the wrath of fishermen around here more so than other aquatic birds, probably because the pelican has a reputation for scooping in and grabbing up fish on the line or waiting around a particularly friendly group of fishermen just to pounce on fish once released from the hook.

“A few years ago, people were putting fly glue on fish and feeding it to the pelicans. The pelicans couldn’t swallow the fish because it was glued to the throat pouch,” said Totman.

She said her agency also routinely receives calls about fishermen who will beat pelicans with fishing poles to keep them away from the smaller catch.

Totman said anyone on or near the water should keep an eye out for pelicans who may have been victims of the throat-cutting incident.

The birds feed themselves by catching the fish in their pouch and then throwing the fish down their throat from the pouch.

“If the pouch is slit for some reason, like deliberately by a knife, the fish fall through the pouch and the pelican will slowly starve to death,” said Totman.

“It’s a pretty miserable way for the bird to die,” she said.

If you should see either sliced pelicans or any other injured birds in the Lower Keys area, contact Totman at 305-872-1982 or 305-304-5326.

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