It was another busy day at the veterinary clinic where I work, so I wasn't able to start my rounds at the Monterey Fisherman's Wharf until 2:00 PM. Today, that coincided nicely with the arrival of one of the sport fishing boats.
As the boat pulled up to the dock, a large group of pelicans landed in the water nearby, anxiously waiting. There was a mixture of adult and juvenile birds, and they all looked in great shape - no apparent injuries or fishing line entanglements, that I could see.
The fishermen began cleaning and filleting fish for their passengers. As they normally do, they tossed the scraps, the spiny skeletons and large fish heads, into the water for the pelicans and seals.
With each toss, there was a frenzy as the pelicans and seals rushed in for their share. It is so frustrating to watch, knowing how dangerous this is for the birds.
Pelicans can swallow fairly large whole fish. You can watch a pelican manipulate a large fish in its pouch until it's angled just right so it slides down the bird's throat without a problem. The bony scraps, however, get caught in the pouch and throat, even piercing through.
Disposing of fish scraps this way also results in severe sometimes fatal injuries to the pelicans from seal bites.
After getting a good look at all the birds by the boat, I walked the pier for a couple of hours, scoping gulls for injuries until the next fishing boat arrived, trailing new birds.
I watched the process unfold again - the offloading of passengers, the cleaning of the fish, and again, there were no injured or entangled birds.
Having had their fill, the pelicans began to disperse. I was scanning each one with my binoculars, when I spotted a juvenile pelican being followed closely by a gull. The gull was pecking at its bill. The poor bird had a giant fish head lodged in it pouch.
The pelican stretched its neck over and over trying to choke down the spiny fish head, but to no avail.
I watched it swim beneath the pier, away from the fishing boats and out towards the harbor.
I ran to the other side, knowing it will stop at the float (I’ve watched them enough to know their habits).
Sure enough, it was there.
Wearing gloves, I grabbed discarded fish scraps out of a nearby bucket, and walked out onto the loading platform and dangled it in front of the bird. It showed no interest.
I set the carcass on the ledge. A few minutes later, the pelican flew onto the platform. With a clear strike, I grabbed hold of its bill, then enlisted the help of a gentleman walking by to help hold the pelican while I removed the fish from its pouch. Success. We released hold of the bird and it flew off.
Right then, I saw a juvenile paddling by. It was trailing a strand of fishing line. I played with the fish scraps to get its attention, but it swam away. To my surprise, however, it flew up onto the deck behind me and walked behind a trash can.
With the trash can blocking its view of me, I was able to sneak close and catch it off guard. It was a fairly simple capture.
With line wrapped around its body and across its wings, surly it had one or more hooks embedded in its body. It would need medical care.
I placed a sheet over its head and body and carried it to my vehicle. Once safely inside a pet carrier, I transported it to SPCA for Monterey County Wildlife Center for initial treatment. If it requires more intensive care, it will be transferred to pelican experts at International Bird Rescue in Cordelia, CA.