As It Happens

Intern saves pelican by reaching down its 'slimy' throat for swallowed phone

Some interns fetch coffee. But Emma McCarthy fetched a cellphone out of the belly of a pelican.

'I was ready and willing to go right in,' says Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center's Emma McCarthy

Emma McCarthy, an intern at Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center in Tavernier, Fla., retrieves a swallowed cellphone from the gullet of a pelican. (Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center/Facebook )

This article was originally published on March 5, 2020. 


Read Story Transcript

Some interns fetch coffee. But Emma McCarthy fetched a cellphone out of the belly of a pelican.

McCarthy, 23, is an intern at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center in Tavernier, Fla., which got a call on Feb. 23 about a pelican snatching a cellphone out of someone's hand and swallowing it whole, presumably mistaking it for a fish.

"There was really only one option, which was to reach down and grab it," McCarthy told As It Happens host Carol Off. "So it just had to be done."

The centre's technician Adam Manglitz made the first attempt. But his hands were too big and he couldn't reach all the way down the bird's gullet. 

That's when McCarthy answered the call of duty. Manglitz kept the bird calm and held its beak open while McCarthy did the deed. 

Watch this intern pull a cellphone out of a pelican's belly

As It Happens

1 year ago
0:15
Emma McCarthy, 23, helps a pelican that swallowed a cellphone in this video provided by the Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center in Tavernier, Fla. 0:15

"I thought it was certainly different and out of the ordinary for my daily work," she said. "But I did volunteer to do it at the time, so I was ready and willing to go right in."

So what does the inside of a pelican's throat feel like?

"It was a little slimy, a little warm, but pretty smooth," she said. "It's a straight shot right down to the stomach."

McCarthy retrieved the phone intact, and the bird is doing just fine. She says it would have felt "a little bit of discomfort," but not too much pain. Birds are sensitive to anesthetics, so the centre avoids putting them under unless it's necessary.

The centre kept the pelican for observation for a couple hours, she said, then let it go. 

It was pretty gross. It had some bits of partially-digested fish and some parasites on it."​​​​​​- Emma McCarthy, Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center

As for the phone, McCarthy says it was dead by the time she got it out of the bird.

"We're not really sure if it's broken, or maybe the battery just died. We were able to return it to the owner but we haven't heard from her whether it made it through the ordeal," she said.

"It was pretty gross. It had some bits of partially-digested fish and some parasites on it."

McCarthy just graduated from DePaul University in Chicago, where she studied biology. While she says nothing in her studies prepared her for pelican cellphone retrieval, the experience hasn't soured her from working with wildlife.

"I thought it was encouraging," she said. "I like that kind of going to work is different every day and ... you never know what you're going to get."


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Morgan Passi. 

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