WARNING: Graphic photos below.
As a Wildlife Custodian I often encounter wildlife who have had a run in with discarded fishing gear.
I recently was on the receiving end of a Northern Map Turtle who had swallowed a fishing hook. This was my first experience with the actual fisherman bringing out an animal who had accidentally swallowed a hook.
Northern Map Turtle who swallowed a fishing hook
I full well realize that nobody has this happen on purpose, but most fishermen simply cut their line and move on when they hook a turtle. This action will often result in a slow death for the turtles involved.
However, this time the turtle came to us, but we were unable to reach the hook through the oral cavity, so we called on our vet to assist to surgically remove the hook.
x-ray of the map turtle
The surgery went well. The hook had perforated the esophagus and was removed through the side of the turtles neck. After several weeks of recovery with the help of pain medications and antibiotics the turtle was successfully returned to her natural habitat.
I would like to encourage all fishermen to not cut the line when you hook a turtle, but remove the hook if at all possible and if that is not an option than any wildlife rehab center will be more than happy to assist. It is of course important to use caution when handling turtles specifically Snapping Turtles can be a bit of an issue and should be handled with caution.
I would not recommend to try and remove a hook from a snapping turtle's mouth without anesthesia. For those cases it is best to contain the turtle in something like a plastic tote (with air holes) and transport to your local wildlife rehab facility.
Never pick up a turtle by its tail, that can do damage to the turtle's spine. It is best to pick up larger turtles with one hand underneath the turtles back end (much like you would pick up a tray of drinks) and put your other hand on top of the tail to keep it balanced on your hand. Some people also use the back of the carapace (top shell) to pick up a large turtle, but personally I find they are difficult to grip that way.
Whatever you do you hands should not be above and in front of a snapping turtle's hind legs. Their neck can reach a long way around and they are lightning fast. They are called snapping turtles for a reason. Also, be aware that the nails on their feet can be sharp and they will try to scratch you as well.
Waterfowl are often a victim of discarded fishing gear. We have had our fair share of birds come in with fishing-related injuries.
Canada goose with a fishing line injury
Canada Goose with a double hooked leg
Some of these types of injuries are painful for the animal, but easily resolved. Other types are not.
This Ring Billed Gull was not so lucky. He had an issue with a fishhook that cost him his life
Postmortem we discovered a fish hook embedded in his chest.
It is a fact that a lot of fishermen still leave remnants of fishing gear behind after they are done fishing. I can state this as factual because a short walk on the shores of the Grand River near where I live yields me a wealth of fishing gear.
Discared fishing line, sinkers and hooks found on a short walk along the Grand River
It is my hope that by bringing the issues to people's attention fishermen can be motivated to clean up after they are done fishing. This is truly a big problem for waterfowl and turtles alike.