“For our wedding, we are going to release hundreds of colored balloons to match our bridesmaids’ dresses,” said the excited bride-to-be. Sounds pretty, but for wildlife this can prove deadly.
Massive balloon releases are often a celebratory part of events or a symbolic commemoration. While this seems innocent initially, there are unintended and dangerous consequences for birds and other wildlife. Seabirds and ocean mammals may mistake a deflated balloon in the water as a jellyfish or squid and ingest it as food, but the latex or Mylar of the balloon is indigestible and clogs the animal’s intestinal tract causing starvation. Dangling strings from the balloons catch and tangle in trees and bushes, potentially snaring birds, their wings, or legs and causes serious damage just as fishing line does. In addition to birds, many other species of wildlife are adversely affected by balloons, including land mammals and turtles, sea turtles, dolphins, whales, seals, and sharks.
The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) states, “marine debris is a continuing problem for marine turtles.” Specifically because the turtles “commonly ingest or become entangled in marine debris (e.g., tar balls, plastic bags, plastic pellets, balloons, and ghost fishing gear).” Endangered species of turtles as well as shorebirds are entangled in string from balloons. Turtles can lose limbs from string constriction or ingest the deflated balloons blocking digestion.
Not only balloons, but the newer lantern craze—sending lighted lanterns into the sky at night—that also endangers wildlife and domestic animals. Dozens of sky lanterns can be a beautiful sight and most manufacturers state the lanterns are biodegradable, but this only refers to the frame paper-like covering. The wire lantern frame remains in the environment for decades. There is even a case in England in which a farmer’s cow died from eating a piece of lantern frame wire that ruptured its stomach, and a foal had to be euthanized after injuring itself on a fence because it was startled by two lanterns landing in the field.
Alternatives to balloons and sky lanterns that are free of any wildlife consequences range from candlelight vigils, static non-airborne candle lanterns, blowing bubbles, nightlights, or planting flowers or trees for your celebration or commemoration.
Licensed wildlife rehabilitators have the knowledge and experience to care for injured wild animals in need of help. When you find a wild animal you think needs help, it is best to call for advice so both you and the wild animal remain safe. Please make certain the wild animal in question needs assistance before you intervene. In this area, you can contact ERIE WILDLIFE RESCUE at 519-735-3919.
If you need assistance with an injured or orphaned wild animal, you can contact the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA) Central Office at 320.230.9920 or check the website http://www.nwrawildlife.org/ to find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area.
The NWRA is dedicated to improving and promoting the profession of wildlife rehabilitation and its contributions to preserving natural ecosystems. Donations to help further the NWRA mission are always appreciated. NWRA is a 501c3 charitable organization and your donation is tax deductible as allowed by law.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 1, 2015
Submitted by: National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association
2625 Clearwater Road, Suite 110
St. Cloud, MN 56301
Contact person: Kathy Stelford, Board member – Public Education