Local pelican rescue caught on cell phone

Published: Oct. 15, 2020 at 9:13 PM CDT
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Living on the coast there are bound to be clashes between man and wildlife. Still, most of us can’t stand to see an animal suffer.

That was the case in Panama City when a woman spotted a tangled pelican and called for help.

Lt. John Allen with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission answered that call.

“I got a call from our dispatch center about a bird that was trapped in some fishing line right up under the west end of the Hathaway Bridge,” Lt. Allen said. “He was about as covered in hooks as any bird I’ve ever seen.”

Lt. Allen has a passion for protecting wildlife. That’s one reason he is part of the FWC.

“I love saving the wildlife when we can,” said Lt. Allen. “Unfortunately sometimes they’re beyond saving.”

When Lt. Allen responded to this call he wondered if this would be one of those times.

“I looked over the bird [and] I didn’t see any apparent injuries, no obvious broken wings or anything like that but it was definitely entangled in a bunch of fishing line and old fishing hooks and lures,” said Lt. Allen.

So entangled the bird could barely move but continued to struggle to free itself.

“I took out my multi-tool and my pocket knife and started removing hooks. It had two fishing lures and probably six hooks that were wrapped up in it,” said Lt. Allen.

Pelicans like to glide and Lt. Allen believes the injured pelican probably glided through several fishing lines possibly from fishermen throwing a line out from the Hathaway bridge.

“I left one hook in the bird because of where it was at in the corner of his bill,” Lt. Allen said. "I didn’t want to do any more damage to the bird by trying to remove that so I just left that one in. There was a fishing lure next to his leg and a piece of weight along with some other hooks and stuff. None of that was embedded in his legs so I was just able to cut that stuff loose.

In case you’re wondering about that long bill on a pelican.

“The good thing about pelicans is they’ll snap at you but they really won’t hurt you unless they pinch you right at the tip,” explained Lt. Allen.

When asked if this was a typical day for him, he replied...

“Yes, ma’am it can be. Depending on the season and the weather we get a lot of bird calls. A lot of times after heavy winds we’ll get a lot of birds that are just flat out wore out and we’ll go relocate them away from a hazard. If they’re on the side of the highway or bridge we’ll take them to a spot where they can recuperate safely without getting more injured or severely injured or killed.”

The pelican was finally freed from his wiry prison and deemed strong enough to go back into the water.

“I knew his wings were functional and they were fairly strong with trying to hold him down and getting the lines off,” said Lt. Allen. “I walked over to the water and dropped him in. I really wasn’t expecting him to fly off but he did kind of glide out a few feet from the seawall. He did kind of just turn around and just look and then swam around the corner of the seawall.”

Dealing with pelicans isn’t for the squeamish.

“I was covered in mites the rest of the day,” said Lt. Allen. "You’d be surprised with them being in the water a lot of them do carry a lot of mites. You can handle them for just a couple of minutes and you’ll have these bugs everywhere so. They will have you with the heebee jeebees for the rest of the day.

The woman who spotted the injured pelican used her cell phone to record what she calls Lt. Allen’s heroic actions.

“That’s not why we do our job, it’s not for the recognition or the thanks,” said Lt. Allen. “We do it because we’re passionate about the outdoors and the resources. I mean it’s just another day.”

Maybe just another day for him but probably not for the pelican.

“I believe he was grateful to be untangled,” said Lt. Allen." I haven’t seen him around for a couple of days so he’s moseyed on to be with his flock."

If you spot injured wildlife please don’t hesitate to call the F.W.C.

And for fishermen we’re told at many boat ramps there are recycling tubes for your fishing line.

“It’s just a piece of PVC,” said Lt. Allen. “There’ll be a sticker on there that says recycle your lines. So it’s not a hazard for not only our birds but our marine life as well.”

You can report incidents online or call 888-404-FWCC (3922). Cell phone users can also call *FWC or #FWC, or send a text to

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