Handling and Release of Hooked and Entangled Birds

Most seabirds are caught during line setting, and are therefore dead by the time gear is hauled. However, in the event that you discover a live seabird on the line, release the tension on your mainline by slowing your vessel to a stop. Ease the bird to the side of the vessel by steadily bringing in the line. Do not make sudden jerks. If available, use a long-handled dip net to bring the bird on board.

Seabirds can be quite large and will bite, so gloves, eye protection, long sleeves and the help of a crewmember are all useful to have. The following are helpful tips for the correct way to hold a bird:

  • Hold it behind the head at the top of its neck
  • Fold the feathers and wings back into their natural position against the body
  • Do not accidentally restrict its breathing by covering its nostrils or squeezing the body too tightly
  • Cover its body with a towel to protect the bird’s feathers from oils and other things that could damage it during handling

Movie 2.3: Seabird Dehooking Animation

A video about seabird dehooking. Also available at http://youtu.be/eLK1BPV_Wic.

How to CORRECTLY hold a bird. (John Paterson, ATF Namibia)


How NOT to hold a bird. (Juliano Cesar, Projeto Albatroz)


If the bird is lightly hooked in the bill, leg or wing, and you can see the barb of the hook: remove the excess line, cut off the barb with bolt cutters, and then back out the rest of the hook.

If the bird is deeply hooked in the body or throat (you cannot see the barb), cut the line as close to the hook as possible, leaving the hook in the bird. Removing a deeply embedded hook can cause more harm than good. Never try to pull on the leader to remove a hook.

Hooked bird (Dimas Gianuca, Projeto Albatroz)

A bird’s feathers must be dry in order for it to fly properly, and it can take between 30 minutes and 4 hours for them to dry if wet. A cardboard box with a dry towel or blanket is a good place for it to rest and recuperate before being released. Do not give the bird food or water.

A fully recovered bird can:

  • Stand on its feet
  • Hold its head up
  • React to sound
  • Breathe without making noise
  • Retract its wings into a normal position against its body

Bird in recovery box (Bronwyn Maree, ATF South Africa/BirdLife South Africa)


To release a bird, stop the vessel and set the bird on the water’s surface. Do not throw it into the air. Wait until the bird is clear of the vessel before reengaging the motor.

If you encounter a banded (tagged) bird, record its number, the time and place of its capture, and note the mitigation measures that were employed at the time. This information can help scientists evaluate which mitigation measures are most effective.

Remember that seabirds, and albatrosses in particular, are sensitive bycatch species. For albatrosses in particular, the actions you take to avoid their capture and to release them if they are caught are critical to their long-term survival. They mate for life and produce only a single egg every one to two years. If one member of a pair is killed, the other cannot raise the chick alone. The loss of one adult can lead to the loss of a chick and any future chicks from the pair. Take the time to do your part to keep this part of the marine ecosystem healthy.