It ain’t ‘Swan’ lake for the beloved waterfowl of Prospect Park

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Fishermen in Prospect Park have finally reeled in the Big Ones: geese!

Concerned residents say that two of the beloved waterfowl have been spotted with injuries that could only have resulted from a rendezvous with a man and a pole.

One water bird apparently swallowed a hook and line and now has the monofilament protruding from his chest, plus a torn foot. Another suffered months with a fishing hook lodged in his beak — though the hook has since been removed.

Both injuries were discovered by bird lovers Anne-Katrin Titze and her companion, Ed Bahlman, who have developed into self-styled spokesmen for the fowl.

“If the park is going to permit fishing, there has to be enforcement,” said Bahlman.

The startling dangers lurking beneath the water’s surface first alarmed Titze when she participated in a fish census in a small portion of the lake. After park workers damned and drained the lake, loads of human detritus was suddenly in plain view.

Titze, who teaches at Hunter College, pulled an assortment of toys, a skateboard, buckets, fishing line and hooks and even a rusted clamming basket — those can’t be good clams — from the small segment of the lake. All told, Titze said, she and others filled 16 trash bags with waste from the lake.

After the experience, Titze and Bahlman began to frame a prime suspect responsible for the injuries to their favorite feathered friends: Careless fishermen.

“If it’s so upsetting for us, how do these animals feel?” pleaded Bahlman.

The pair pointed to fishing line caught in trees along the lake, as well as “Beaky,” a disfigured goose with only a lower beak, as further evidence of the horrors caused by a hook (it was like “The Elephant Man,” but with a goose).

The duty to rescue any animals harmed by human hazards falls to the Urban Park Rangers — whose director admitted that problems with fishing equipment and animals are not uncommon.

But the director, Sarah Aucoin, also said such dilemmas are easy to resolve and that celebrity swans of Prospect Park are monitored closely, thanks to recent media coverage of an inter-species battle.

Indeed, she blamed the intense glare of the paparazzi for some of the problem.

“They [the birds] are becoming too familiar” because of all the coverage, she said. “It’s better for an animal to be fearful of humans. If swans come to think that all people have food, it could actually seriously hurt a kid.”

As for any solution to the problem with stray monofilament, Aucoin noted that a fishing line recycling program at Harlem Meer in Central Park had been very successful.

Others were also reluctant to criticize fishermen, who have a vested interest in conserving the fragile urban ecology.

“Most fishermen don’t leave stray monofilament behind,” said Glenn Phillips, director of the New York Audubon Society. “But all it takes is an irresponsible minority to make a big difference.”

Bahlman and Titze are hoping that officials will ramp up enforcement and education regarding proper fishing procedures, but a spokesman for the park added a dose of reality.

“The lake has more garbage than we like,” said Eugene Patron, the spokesman for the Prospect Park Alliance. “There just aren’t enough [enforcement officers] on the entire 60-acre watercourse to make sure people are doing what they should.”

So for now, if you see something, squawk something.

Updated 5:16 pm, July 9, 2018: Updated with a response from the Urban Park Rangers.
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Reasonable discourse

Sheila from Lefferts Garden says:
I am encouraged that Ms Titze and Mr Bahlman have taken the time to bring attention to this matter. First, do men really need to fish in this lake? Really? I don't care how "responsible" you are as a fisherman, if your line gets tangled you cut it. You don't have to purposefully snag a duck with your line to snag a duck. I would like to see fishing banned from the area. Most disturbing is to watch young children be taught to fish in the area by those who know nothing of the out of doors and nature - ugh, perpetuation of ignorance. And, New York, if you really want to make some money, fine those who litter in the park.
Dec. 14, 2009, 5:53 pm
Barbara from Clinton Hill says:
Thank you Sheila for your comments. How sad to hear about these beautiful birds. If NYC Parks Dept can not afford to have enough enforcement officers to help protect the Lake (and the entire Park for that matter) from people dumping garbage and or unsafe fishing practices, then the only answer would be to bann fishing in order to protect the swans and any other wildlife that happens on a rusty, dangerous and life threatening fish hook and line once swallowed. It is more important to protect this wildlife than to promote a recreation which threatens its existence.
Dec. 14, 2009, 9:29 pm
Elke Nicolai from Clinton Hill says:
The problem seems to be more serious than I thought it would be. Thanks to the swan advocates Anne-Katrin Tietze and Ed Bahlmann who make us aware of it.
Dec. 15, 2009, 8:11 am
Bonita from Prospect Lefferts garden says:
The lake and all of Prospect Park is a real treasure for Brooklyn. Anything done to make it more clean....including the elimination of fishing garbage from careless people would be welcomed by both fish and fowl
Dec. 15, 2009, 12:09 pm
Susan from Kensington says:
I too would like to see fishing banned from the park. I go to the park almost everyday and I have seen the tragic results of those reckless individuals. The destruction of the park's wildlife must stop and we must all do our parts to help. We are very fortunate to have two families of swans that were able to reared their cygnets this year, for I have heard from many visitors that it's very rare to see cygnets survived any year in this park. Let's be more respectful of the wildlife that inhabits Prospect Park and enjoy the beauty that they bring to it! Thank you, Anne and Ed for bringing this serious matter to our attention!
Dec. 15, 2009, 8:10 pm
Colin from Windsor Terrace says:
What every birder knows is that the most common form of invasive species at Prospect Park is the unlicensed person fishing, who disregards the rules of the park. The swans are not the only ones impacted by this very aggressive threat to our wildlife habitat.
This fall a Great Blue Heron was seen flying off over the Lullwater Bridge with fishing line hanging from one of its legs. A Red-tailed Hawk was spotted struggling upside-down trying to break free from a monofilament, and only managed to do so when the tree limb snapped.
Dec. 16, 2009, 9:31 am
Karen Young from Upper West Side, Manhattan says:
I have personally witnessed two fishing bobbers, and one lure attached to tree branches in Prospect Park (on a visit there in October). When casting, it is common for an inexperienced fisherman to catch the line on bushes and tree branches. Also, it is quite common for a fisherman to cut the fishing line when the line is stuck. So, if there is fishing debris in the trees, you can be sure that there is plenty in the water! There are turtles, as well, in the lake, which may think a lure is food. They don't come to the surface with injuries, but it's not only the birds who suffer from fishing debris and garbage.
Dec. 16, 2009, 9:59 pm
Steve from Windsor Terrace says:
Many thanks to Anne-Katrin and Ed for bringing this issue to our attention, and for caring so diligently for the park's wildlife.

Perhaps the Prospect Park Alliance, the Parks Department, and the Macy's "fishing contest" folks can get together and educate people on the guidelines and enforce the rules in place for fishing, so that everyone can enjoy the park responsibly.

We, our children and our grandchildren should all be able to enjoy the majestic sight of watching the swans soar over the lake and land with a splash in front of us. It is truly fantastic to see this in person.
Dec. 17, 2009, 3:23 pm
John Smith from Park Slope says:
I live in park slope and had no idea about this situation in my own neighborhood. Thank you Brooklyn Paper!
Dec. 17, 2009, 8:51 pm
Pedro from Park Slope says:
Why are people allowed to fish in the pond anyway? What are they fishing for? It seems a little ridiculous to allow fishing in a natural habitat.
Dec. 20, 2009, 1:28 pm
Amparo from Park Slope says:
It is unfortunate that the Urban Park Rangers seem more inclined to protect the needs of recreational fishermen instead of the beautiful birds that live in the park. Fishermen should not be allowed to engage in a recreational sport that creates risks for the animals that live in the park.
Dec. 20, 2009, 1:39 pm
Guy Lingley from Winsor Terrace says:
Very glad to read there is room for everyone.
Its OK to fish just be responsible .
Let your dogs run wild.....for a few hours, its OK.
Watch the birds , bang the drums , snow shoe and x-country sky , snow slide down the hill , ride your bike and take a hike .....all the way to the green market on Saturday . Now aren't we lucky to have such a wonderful back yard. Its my park and I will let all of you use it with me.
Guy from Brooklyn.
Dec. 21, 2009, 2:49 pm
Eric from Slope says:
Fishing should be banned in the park. This is an URBAN park, not the wilderness.

Catch and release is harmful for the fish too... they often die after being released due to injury and truama.

Why allow a "sport" that hurts animals in a city park?

I thought parks were about respecting nature, not destroying it.
Dec. 21, 2009, 2:56 pm
Michele Sevik from Kensington says:
The unbelievable amounts of garbage left each summer by people is slowly killing Prospect Park. The Park is a living organism that is being poisoned by toxic wastes and the wild creatures it habors are being harmed by dangerous detritus like the fishing lines mentioned in the article. The park administrators blatant refusal to enforce litter, fishing and BBQ laws is killing one of our most precious resources.
Dec. 22, 2009, 7:32 am
Lini from Flatbush says:
Thank goodness a newspaper is properly covering the story of neglect by those who fish without care in Prospect Park. Public drinking, littering, and improper fishing practices go hand-in-hand and are major reasons why enforcement around the watercourse should be a top priority for park officials.
The fact that we have two swan families (a total 8) playfully exercising their wings and thrilling park goers with their acrobatics in flight around the lake this time of the year is a gift to us all.
Dec. 23, 2009, 9:44 am
Gina from Windsor Terrace says:
As with any group, there are responsible members and irresponsible ones: I've met the responsible ones and they are not out to hurt the birds or any other wildlife but clearly, this problem needs more attention from Park wildlife managers.

Humans negatively influencing their environment again, just like acid rain, global warming, oil spills. The birds need more protection for their home on the Lake. I don't think fishing will realistically be stopped, but there is an overriding issue here that has become worse over the past couple of years:
Poor enforcement of littering violations. And better policing of fishermen.

The best contacts at the Park to lodge a complaint are the wildlife managers, and at any Park in the City (though they can't do much, just for information and to find a direct contact), an Urban Park Ranger.
Dec. 27, 2009, 9 am
Dana Marie says:
I am new to the park and was pleasantly surprised to see the lovely foray of bird wildlife in the park. Considering this is a man made park it is a shame that fish have been added to the pond if only to encourage such a crass sport as fishing. Does anyone know if this was the original intent of the introduction of fish to the water? In any regard, if the presence of man in the park is not comestible by nature then the persons in charge of the preservation should work to eliminate those causes to keep the park in accordance with its original pristine beauty.
Dec. 27, 2009, 11:38 am
Hollie from Park Slope says:
It's important to also log such concerns directly with the Park and the City... a call to 311 will direct your calls. The park and its inhabitants are so special and need activists to make sure they are not overlooked. We need to be advocates to make sure the beauty of the parks is not purely superficial, but safe and healthy for the humans and animals that need it.
Dec. 27, 2009, 6:07 pm
Lynnette Arthur says:
Learning about the original fighting swans’ situation sparked a series of thoughtful conversations among the four-year- old children in our class. They seem to have a strong emotional investment in what is happening among these animals in the pond in Brooklyn. The children have been coming up with their own theories about why they think the swans are fighting. Their comments reveal not only their ideas about animal behavior in the natural world, but also reflect their thoughts about fighting and relationships in their own lives. Why do animals – or people – fight? Perhaps because they have limited resources or want something all to themselves (food or space), because they are imitating others’ behavior, or, as one child said, “I think that the swans are fighting because they don’t know each other.” Some other suggestions…
“Maybe the people who work there don’t feed them and they ran out of fish and there’s not enough food.”
“Maybe because the swans with one baby have some fish on that side, and the other ones don’t have fish on that side and maybe they’re just trying to get some fish.”
“People fight. Maybe the swans saw people fighting on the next to the pond and now they want to fight too. The swans want to fight because they think they’re people.”
As the children grappled to make sense of this situation, they kept comparing the swan’s behaviors to their own knowledge of human behavior and thoughts. Some were perplexed about why the swans would engage in this “human” activity (fighting). Others applied their ideas about people’s fighting to the swans, expressing disapproval of the swan’s behavior.
As an educator I ask myself, How can we adults guide children to reflect more on their own relationships and fighting they may experience in their lives? Can this unfortunate Brooklyn swan situation help promote empathy in our Manhattan classroom?
Dec. 28, 2009, 12:15 am
Amy from Prospect Park South says:
How heartening it is to see the persistence of Anne-Katrin and Ed elicit such concern and thoughtful comments from others -- including the children in Lynette's preschool class! Now that the momentum is building, there really should be a forum on whether or not to ban fishing in the park. At the very least, public discussion will educate people on how to be responsible while fishing. It would also be an opportunity to highlight the HUGE problem of littering violations that so blight one's enjoyment of the park, especially on those days that follow beautiful warm weekends when so many are out picnicking. Maybe we can pressure the administration to adopt a "carry-in/carry-out" policy. Maybe we adults can learn to be as reflective as those preschoolers in Lynette's class.
Dec. 28, 2009, 8:44 am
Eugene Wyatt from Union Square says:
With a subway system that takes Brooklynites to the ocean's edge, and what a fishy ocean it is, why is fishing permitted in a city park, Commisioner Benepe?
Dec. 31, 2009, 7:53 am
Cindy Long says:
Bravo to the Goose Patrol-keep up the great work!!
March 19, 2010, 10:42 am

Comments closed.

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