Several patients suffer from fishing hook injuries

November 20, 2020

A double crested cormorant and a Florida softshell turtle were among the 73 animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a snowy egret, a great blue heron, a black skimmer, a burrowing owl, a Florida box turtle and a grey squirrel.

The cormorant was found at Port of the Islands on a weir that is a popular fishing spot. A fisherman saw the cormorant and could tell it was severely injured. After capturing the bird the fisherman flagged down a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officer who was passing by. The FWC officer brought the cormorant to our facility for care.

Cormorant suffers multiple injuries — included an ingested fishing hook

The injuries and suffering the cormorant had endured were difficult to witness. The cormorant’s mentation was dull and the bird was weak and underweight. There were necrotic wounds along the right side of the cormorant’s neck and jaw and fishing line was coming from its mouth. A radiograph revealed a large hook and sinker had been ingested and was embedded in the bird’s neck at the thoracic inlet (junction between the neck and chest).

The Conservancy staff vet anesthetized the cormorant to evaluate the wounds and determine if the hook could be removed surgically. Unfortunately, the injuries were too severe, the location of the hook and sinker made it impossible to remove. Euthanasia was our only humane treatment option.

A distressing number of birds are arriving at our facility with fatal injuries caused by fishing line and hooks. Please, if you are an angler, take precautions to avoid injuring birds that may be nearby. Wait for birds to move away before you cast. If you do hook a bird, have compassion, don’t cut the line and allow the bird to escape. Reel the bird in quickly and carefully; a bird struggling against a taut line may snap the monofilament line allowing the bird to fly or swim off hooked with line trailing behind.

After the bird is reeled in, cover its head with a towel to help calm the bird while assessing the damage. If the hook is not deeply embedded, gently push the hook through until the barb is exposed. Clip the barb and back the hook out. After the hook is removed step away and allow the bird time to gain its bearings. The bird should fly off once it has had some time to rest. If it is unable to fly away, the damage could be more severe than anticipated requiring the bird be brought to the wildlife hospital for care.

If the hook is deeply embedded, or, if the hook has been ingested, contain the bird and bring it to the wildlife hospital for immediate medical attention.

Guidance on what to do when hooking a pelican, or other shorebirds while fishing

The Florida softshell turtle sustained abrasions from scraping across the road after being struck by a vehicle on Goodlette Road near Pine Ridge. When von Arx Wildlife Hospital Critter Courier Maggie Dimon arrived on scene to rescue the turtle, she found the injured turtle futilely struggling to scale the curb.

Radiograph of a Florida softshell turtle shows ingested fishing hook

Along with the abrasions, the turtle was dull and minimally responsive. It is standard procedure to take a radiograph of every turtle admitted. The radiograph taken of the softshell showed the turtle had ingested a fishing hook. The hook was an incidental finding yet created an additional health concern. Staff administered pain medication, cleaned the abrasions and placed the softshell turtle in an enclosure in the reptile room under a folded towel to help keep the turtle calm. The turtle’s behavior has improved with supportive care. The location of the hook is such that it can’t be removed. Staff continues to monitor the turtle’s health for signs of further complications caused from ingesting fish hook.

By far, shorebirds are the most common victims of fishing hook injuries although a fair number of turtles are also admitted each year after ingesting fish hooks.

If you hook a turtle, carefully reel the animal to shore or use a net to scoop the turtle up out of the water. Cover the turtle with a towel or t-shirt. Removing a hook from a turtle can be tricky so in most instances it is best to bring the turtle to the wildlife hospital. Staff can properly remove the hook without causing further damage.

Recent Releases

A Florida softshell turtle, six eastern cottontails, a blue jay, two red-shouldered hawks, a striped mud turtle, a grey squirrel, a yellow-bellied slider, two raccoons and a gopher tortoise were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Please visit the Conservancy website at tounderstand issues affecting rural lands in Eastern Collier County and support our efforts to ensure our wildlife have a great place to call home. Get involved, become a member and help us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.

Joanna Fitzgerald is director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Call 239–262–2273 or see