Today I’m not going to share with you my “beautiful” and “totally awesome,man” kayaking experience in Menorca…as I find myself, right now, feeling somewhat full of grief.
We were coming to the end of our lunch break on dry land, and as we looked out to the bay, out of nowhere, like Hitchock’s movie “Birds”, the sky was swarming with seagulls, screaming at the top of their lungs.
We noticed, after some confusion, that in the water was a seagull flapping around in the most bizarre of manners; it almost looked like a cormorant trying to dry its wings half submerged, but equally, it looked like an eagle feasting on something.
A few minutes passed and we began to feel that this bird was not trying to, for instance, mate another seagull in a curious aquatic display, nor was it dining on something – it was in trouble.
I got into my boat and paddled over gently to the creature – I circled it a couple of times to try to make sense of what was going on.
It was drowning.
It was difficult to see why but cautious for my own safety I took a short period to analyse the situation.
It appeared to have its beak stuck in its foot below the surface with fishing line. He would manage to get his face to the surface to take in a breath and then he would immediately be pulled under by his foot.
I couldn’t bear it – I needed to try to cut him free.
I gently slid my paddle under him. I thought he would be terrified and try to fight me but he didn’t. Although he was clearly exhausted for fighting for his life, he seemed to know I was trying to help him and so he flopped on to my paddle.
I got him onto the surface of my boat but he jiggled slightly and fell back into the water. I was mortified.
I scooped him up for a second time onto my paddle – he still let me do this and this time…I managed to keep him on my deck.
The only problem here was that if I slid my paddle from under him, he would fall into the sea again. Fortunately, I was not far from shore at this point and the water was shallow and so Emily gently waded in and pulled us to shore.
He had a fishing hook straight through his beak. It was attached to loads of fine fishing line wrapped around both his legs, locking them together. He also had so much around his left leg that his foot had turned blue.
Emily calmy held his wings whilst I got out the boat and took my kayaking rescue knife from my buoyancy aid.
He let us work – he didn’t fight us. It felt like he looked us in the eye and said he understood we were trying to help.
I cut the line that connected the hook in his beak to his foot so he could raise his head, and then I managed to cut the lengths of line that were wrapping his legs together so that he could stand.
I tried to take more from his legs but he began to become distressed and so we let go.
He was able to stand at this point but the hook still remained through his beak and wire around his feet. We had no means to get the hook out and if we did, we may have caused him even further damage.
We hear so much about marine plastic being a massive issue and of course it is, so please be mindful about your shopping and disposal habits. However, let’s not forget about the impact we have on marine life through things such as fishing – in fact, any activity that if not practiced mndfully can entangle innocent creatures and lead them to an absolutely barbaric end.
I’m unsure right now whether I should have left the bird to drown, as although his death would have been distressing… I think it may have been quicker than the inevitable lethargy, hunger, and pain that he is likely to experience due to not being able to eat due to the hook and the infection he will get from the wire around his legs…he may also get his beak caught again.
Right now I am horrifed and this incident has been a stark reminder as to WHY I did my postgrad in wildlife conservation.
It’s very easy to see images online through the likes of Facebook and be saturated with so much information that when you see something like a marine creature ingest something WE, HUMANS, have made, to become desensitised to it.
I know that Emily and I won’t ever forget this.
Meet Sid – may he gently fall asleep.
On a slight deviation – I have just come across this petition to stop UK supermarkets selling fruit and veg in plastic packaging… will you sign it?