GEORGE NEWS - A Facebook post about children trying to catch seagulls using baited fishing hooks on Wilderness beach had readers spewing fire on Saturday afternoon, 11 July.
The post by a Wilderness resident read, "Found these kids and another older one, catching seagulls with baited hooks and then trying to fly them like kites still smirking while watching the gulls struggle as their innards are pulled out." The post has since been removed.
But, according to the family's legal representative, Johan van Zyl, the children were merely fishing when the seagull swooped down after the bait and managed to get the hook stuck in its mouth.
"The children were fishing when the seagull grabbed the bait. It was nothing more than an unfortunate accident. They panicked and didn't know what to do. One of them ran to the car to get something to cut the line and let the bird free. There was never any intention to harm the animal," he said in a telephone interview with George Herald on Tuesday.
The resident who created the post, however, said that while he was taking a walk on the beach at approximately 17:30 he saw the children throwing something into the air.
"I didn't pay much attention as I thought they were throwing them left-over bait. On my way back, however, I saw two fishing lines on the beach. Both had hooks and bait attached to them. A third hook was already stuck in a seagull's mouth," he said.
"I rushed to the aid of the bird and a man, who said he was the children's father, approached me and assisted me to get the hook from the bird's mouth, but not before suggesting we simply cut the line and let the bird fly away hook and all."
They eventually managed to free the bird.
According to Van Zyl the children and their father were desperately trying to free the seagull in distress, not mutilating it.
"Any fisherman will be able to tell you that these unfortunate things happen as seagulls are notoriously cheeky and opportunistic and often try to grab bait. The only reason it was initially suggested that the line be cut is because they didn't know what else to do – in the end the hook was removed. Obviously the bird kept on wanting to fly away, they never intended to 'fly it like a kite'.
"These people are animal lovers and my client's daughter regularly visits the welfare centre, Oudtshoorn Dogs in Need (Odin). It is tragic that a day of fishing and relaxation was exploited for Facebook likes to the detriment of children who were traumatised by the events themselves - and even more by the 'fishing for birds with baited hooks' narrative which has now made it from deleted Facebook gossip to the mainstream press," he said.
After speaking to local PhD student and marine bird rehabilitator, Zanri Schoeman, it seems that marine birds do occasionally get hooked by fishing tackle.
"Sometimes they get hooked on their backs and sometimes they swallow the hooks when they try to eat the bait. Gulls are scavengers so they tend to grab and eat bait. This could lead to their death if left untreated," she said.
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