This is the time of year when whales visit Monterey Bay and often come quite close to shore. Humpbacks, in particular, are commonly seen from beaches in the fall. Earlier in the summer they are out over the Monterey Canyon feeding on krill. In the late summer and early fall they switch to feeding on anchovies, which school in shallower water over the continental shelf. Last week they were putting on a show, to the delight of whale watchers who pay for whale watching trips out of Moss Landing and Santa Cruz.
Yesterday evening my husband and I borrowed a friend's little boat and went out looking for whales. A humpback had been seen from the beach around the cement ship at Seacliff State Beach, lunge-feeding and breaching. Even the Monterey Bay is a big body of water, and I'd rated our chance of finding a whale at about 50%. We did eventually find one swimming parallel to the shore. And I have pictures to prove it!
The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 prohibits humans from approaching any marine mammals, so we kept our distance. The whale undoubtedly knew we were there and it did get a little closer than this, right around the time that we noticed a flock of ~25 pelicans fly overhead and start circling over an area a short distance away. It was starting to get dark and we had to turn around and head back, and on our way we ended up where the pelicans were hanging out.
As we approached we could see a bird flapping about on the surface of the water, but unable to get airborne. It didn't take long for us to see that it was somehow tied up with a dead common murre and a piece of kelp. We were able to pull the kelp toward the boat and grab the live bird. It appeared to be a juvenile gull.
Here's the dead murre:
And here's the gull:
It had a hook in its right nostril and a hook in each foot. The hook in its beak was attached to line that went around its body, making the bird unable to raise its head. Fortunately Alex was able to cut the line while I held the bird. We didn't have the tools to try removing the hooks, so we decided to head back in. We wrapped the bird loosely in a towel to keep it from flailing around and held onto it for the long, wet ride back to the harbor.
When we back on land I called the Marine Mammal Center because: (a) I had the number programmed into my phone; and (b) I knew they'd have a live person to answer the phone, who would be able to tell me who to call about this bird. The person I talked to transferred me to Pacific Wildlife Care in Morro Bay. The recorded message told me to place the bird in a box or pet carrier on a towel and leave it in a warm, dark place until we could bring it in the morning. We weren't about to make a 2.5-hr drive to Morro Bay, but fortunately there is an organization right here in Santa Cruz that we've taken animals to before: Native Animal Rescue. We got home, dug out the kitty carrier, and tucked the bird in for the night. The only warm place we could think of that the cats couldn't get to was the pantry, so the bird spent the night there.
I had a school meeting this morning, so Alex took the bird to Native Animal Rescue. The woman who met him said the bird was a juvenile western gull (Larus occidentalis)--another WEGU. She took the bird out, wrapped it in a towel, and calmed it by simulating a hood on its head.
Poor bird. Fortunately the hooks went through the webbing in the feet, so there wasn't any damage to bones or soft tissue.
The woman pulled the hook out of the nostril pretty easily. To remove the hooks from the feet she had to first cut the barbs and then pull them back out. Alex said the whole thing took about 5 minutes. The bird seems otherwise uninjured. The folks at Native Animal Rescue will keep an eye on it for a few days and then release it back to the wild. I think I'll give them a call tomorrow and see if we can be there when the bird is released.
Update Sunday 20 August: We called Native Animal Rescue this morning and were told that the bird had been transferred to a wildlife care facility up in Fairfield. All of the seabirds that come into Native Animal Rescue get sent up there. So we won't get to see "our" gull be released back into the wild.