Adopting a pelican

At the northern tip of the northern-most island in the Sea of Cortez is a sprinkling of anchorages under the umbrella of what is well known as “Refugio”. Not too many cruisers come this far north in the Sea, and the ones that do come here for one reason; it is the jump-off point to make the overnight sail into Puerto Penasco (aka Rocky Point) where some cruisers ‘summer’ and repair their boats This happened to be our plan.

We arrived a good two-ish weeks before our haul-out date in Penasco just so we could hang out, do little to nothing, and enjoy our final days at sea. At first we stayed clear of the half-dozen or so other boats spread across the numerous smaller bays. Kerri and did some beach exploring, some swimming (yep, Kerri too for a change), and just good old fashion relaxed after 13 straight months of a heckuvalota moving.

It was on our second day here that we were given a quest: A pelican with a fishing lure caught in its beak and chest swam past, on his way to the shore. It was certain death for this creature, and if it were any other creature that is how it likely would have ended. The pelicans in Mexico are just so easy going and relaxed, we figured we could help… without getting injured ourselves. So, we set out to capture it (he couldn’t fly, so that would be easy) and do what we could. This ended up being a half-hour long operation right there in our dinghy with Kerri holding it wrapped in a towel while I worked slowly at getting the three different hooks out of the bird. One in his beak, and two in his breast. It wasn’t easy, but we pulled it off and set the old guy on his way. He barely complained at all during the whole procedure… I may have complained more actually.

We continued to watch the shoreline over the next week and there he stood, every single day. We both hoped he would make it, and both checked in on him every day. We adopted the poor fella on the spot and felt responsible for his healing, not that we could do a single thing to help. He couldn’t fly to feed, but he was able to drink as needed so he had some time to heal. Occasionally we would see him raise his wings up high, give them a flap, and settle in for another day of healing. One trip to shore we got to close to him and he did take a very short flight away from us, which sounded positive at the time. Eventually, and with no warning, one morning there was no lone pelican on the beach. Kerri and I were both concerned, but agree that since there is also no carcass left behind, this likely meant he was able to heal enough to take to the air and start fishing again. Here’s to you adopted pelican; fish on!

Kerri speaks

Our first wildlife rescue. I was on the bow taking a shower when I noticed a pelican floating by, yanking his head oddly. I could eventually see a large fishing lure hooked on one end into his beak and on the other under his wing, completely restraining his range of motion. I called out Tim, and he got into the dinghy with a multi tool, and approached but quickly turned around. We didn’t have a game plan, and I’ve always been taught to not attempt to rescue wildlife— to call a pro. But after conferring with the local sailing group, the closest rescues were over a hundred miles away. I contacted one anyway, hoping for advise (and I did hear back — after the fact — they confirmed our action: we could do it ourselves or try to contact the national park, which would likely not respond). We had already decided it was us or nothing.
By then, we’d lost track of him amongst the hundreds of pelicans in the bay, but he was easy to find as he’d be the only one who couldn’t fly away as we approached. We found him and netted him, and carefully brought him into the dinghy where we wrapped him in a towel and worked on the hook in his beak. They were huge three-pronged hooks, the one in his beak only having snagged him with one of the prongs, but our tools were no task for the job, and our diagonal cutters couldn’t cut the hook. We eventually had to snip a bit more of [whatever a pelican’s beak skin is called] to get it out, but we did it. Remember bed the hook from the lure and moved onto the one lodged under his wing, which had two prongs deeply embedded. It took, I think, about 20 minutes to work them out, and it was very painful for the bird, but we finally got him free. Though we don’t know what his outcome will be with his injuries, he at least has mobility now and a fighting chance.
As we released him and let him back out of the dinghy, he was clearly eager to go, but didn’t seem to rush away from us in fear. As he paddled away, he looked back at us several times. Maybe it was to be sure we weren’t about to torture him again, but when he stretched his neck and spread his wings for the first time, that last look felt like something more. – Kerri

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