Birds Rescued By Aquarium Aviculturists

April 21, 2006

Injury of a common loon demonstrates need for careful fishing

Aviculturists at the Oregon Coast Aquarium rescued two birds recently; a common loon and a common murre. Both were found injured and were brought in for rehabilitation. The common loon was ensnared in a tangle of fishing line and would have died. The common murre has a wing injury of unknown origin. The cost of caring for the birds will be covered by grants from the Kinsman Foundation and the Hugh and Jane Ferguson Foundation. The grants were awarded to help cover the cost of providing urgent care for sick and injured marine mammals and birds over the next year.

Karen Anderson, Aquarium Curator of Birds, says birds that become entangled in fishing line often do not survive. “If you watch the loon diving in its holding pool, it’s easy to see how it can become entangled. This demonstrates the need for people to be very careful while fishing. Lost line and tackle are common causes of fatalities in marine animals. Last Saturday’s Earth and Ocean Day was a good opportunity for us to repeat this message.” Another serious problem caused by fishing tackle is ingestion of lead sinkers. “Loons and other waterfowl eat gravel to aid digestion, and lead sinkers resemble gravel. Ingestion of just one sinker will eventually kill them.”said Anderson. “Fortunately, fishing line sinkers made of non-toxic metals are now available.”

The common loon has a dagger-like beak that is perfect for underwater fishing, diving to depths of over 90 feet, which makes it especailly vulnerable to marine debris. The loon is most closely related to primitive birds, and its soliloquy of cries have a haunting sound. True to its reclusive and solitary nature, the loon prefers a secluded lake or estuary. It is an excellent swimmer and can stay underwater for long periods.

The common murre is distinctive in the way it stands upright like a small penguin. Because seabirds spend so much time on the surface of the water, and because they congregate in large groups for nesting, they are threatened by oil spills. Murres dive deep, which puts them in danger of being trapped in gill nets and fishing hooks and line, where they drown.

The aquarium is able to provide aid for injured marine animals on a limited basis. Greg Starypan, the Aquarium’s Director of Annual Support, says that rescuing and caring for distressed wildlife is especially costly for the Aquarium. “Injured, sick, or newborn animals typically require 24-hour-a-day care,” says Starypan. “Rehabilitation can last up to several months and cost several thousands of dollars for a single animal in labor costs alone.”

The Oregon Coast Aquarium has rehabilitated and released (when possible) injured seabirds, tropical sea turtles, and marine mammals including various endangered species. Although many of these distressed animals are in such poor condition when they arrive that they do not survive, there are those that are successfully rehabilitated and returned to the wild. People who find an injured animal are asked not to touch it or bring it to the Aquarium, but to call the Aquarium or Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.

The Oregon Coast Aquarium receives no on-going governmental support and relies on visitor-related revenues, grants, and donations to finance its annual operations, including its wildlife rehabilitation activities. Funding for these projects comes directly out of the money budgeted for the care of the Aquarium’s 15,000 marine animals. If you would like to help support the Aquarium’s rehabilitation efforts, please call (541) 867-3474 ext. 5228.