Gruesome images of snared osprey show how deadly discarded fishing lines can be

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The body of an osprey lies on the bow of a kayak after it was cut down from the place it died: tangled in fishing line below the Adelaide Street bridge.  (Ian Geleynse - image credit)
The body of an osprey lies on the bow of a kayak after it was cut down from the place it died: tangled in fishing line below the Adelaide Street bridge. (Ian Geleynse - image credit)

WARNING: Some images may be disturbing.

It was a gruesome sight: An osprey, a bird of prey rarely seen in urban southern Ontario, dangling from a fishing line beside a bridge as if from an invisible hangman's noose.

"My mind was racing as to why this bird could possibly be hanging like that," said Ian Gelynse, an avid kayaker who spotted the bird a distance away while paddling with his son Will along the Thames River in London, Ont. on Father's Day.

'Definitely outrage over this'

It was only when Gelynse got closer that his curiosity turned to despair.

"I knew it was an osprey immediately. It's one of my favourite birds," he said. "To see that, I was devastated. I could see all the fishing line bound around it so it was pretty obvious what happened.

"We were both horrified to see it. My son immediately said, 'We can't leave it like that.'"

Gelynse cut it down and took pictures before he put the bird's body in the forest so "nature could take its course," as he puts it, but the jarring sight stuck with him — a sanguine reminder of how our trash can be deadly for wildlife.

Ian Geleynse
Ian Geleynse

The area where the bird died, under the busy Adelaide Street bridge, is a popular spot for anglers in the city. The evidence is in the amount of fishing line that gets tangled across the hydro wires that run parallel to the bridge. The obstacle is invisible and acts like a ghostly spider's web, capable of ensnaring anything unlucky enough to fly into it.

"It doesn't take much before the bird gets tangled in the fishing line before it's going to go into a panic," Gelynse said.

Ian Geleynse
Ian Geleynse

He posted the images on social media, touching off a firestorm of debate that he said got so hot at one point, moderators on one of the websites ended up pulling them down because of the battle that started raging between bird lovers and people who like to fish.

"They don't like to deal in too much controversy," he said. "They pulled it down, but I've had 22 people sharing it."

Pigeons, ducks snagged on fishing gear

On another social media site for kayakers, Gelynse said, he had hundreds of reactions to his images of the dead bird.

"There's definitely outrage over this. I had a lot of praise for cutting that bird down, to try to give it some dignity.

"Through comments I'm learning a lot about the real problem fishing causes," he said.

"To consider that a fish that they don't catch and the line breaks, and the hook is in that fish's mouth, that's potential food for any of these birds."

Environmentalists who clean up trash along the Thames River told CBC News that discarded fishing lines, lures and Styrofoam bait containers are an all-too-common sight during their cleanups, and wildlife often pay a price for our carelessness.

"We have seen examples of wildlife getting caught up in that," said Tom Cull, one of the organizers of Antler River Rally, a volunteer group that organizes monthly cleanups of the Thames River.

He said recent examples include a pigeon snared in fishing line at the Wellington Street bridge and a duck with a hook snagged in its bill.

Through years of clearing debris from the riverbanks, he's found there are two kinds of anglers.

"There's an angler who's maybe more recreational. Saturday morning, go down, have a couple of beers, cast a couple of lines and then there's the serious anglers," said Cull.

"I find the serious anglers are really conservationists and stewards. It's the folks who buy that stuff and then leave it all down at the river — that's an unfortunate thing we see too often."

Fishing group says 'trash has no place in nature'

It's also the kind of littering the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) discourages. The organization has more than 100,000 members and is the province's largest charitable non-profit fish and wildlife conservation organization.

Ian Geleynse
Ian Geleynse

"The bad behaviour of a few individuals can not only lump responsible anglers into the same category, but can also threaten fish and wildlife, their habitats and the ecosystems that support them," OFAH fisheries biologist Adam Weir wrote in an email to CBC News on Friday.

"Discarded lures and fishing lines should always be safely and properly disposed of — trash has no place in nature."

Weir said that to protect the environment, anglers should remove hooks from lures and replace them in a screw-top bottle or can, and dispose of them in a bin. He said many areas now have fishing line recycling depots near boat launches and shorelines.

If that's not available, he said, place the line in a sealed bag or box, and dispose of it in the trash.

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