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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Balloons and Wildlife: Please Don't Release Your Balloons

Balloons collected from a beach cleanup Credit: USFWS

balloon scraps pose a threat to animalsBalloons are great at birthdays, weddings, graduations and more, but once they get loose, balloons can pose a threat to many animals.  

Birds, turtles and other animals commonly mistake balloons for food, which can harm or even kill them.

In addition, many animals can become entangled in balloon strings, which can strangle them or hurt their feet and hands.

For example, more than a hundred balloons were recently collected at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey at a cleanup, and that’s just the number that made it to this one particular beach.

Some of the following pictures are hard to look at, but they make clearer than any words why we all should find alternatives to letting a balloon go.

bird strangled by balloon stringCredit: Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Program

bird hanging by balloon string
Photo: Pamela Denmon, USFWS

Dead Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Photo: USFWS Eastern Shore of VA and Fisherman Island NWR
Sea turtles are especially hit hard as they surface to breathe and eat and commonly eat balloons.

Any suggestions on what we should use?
# Posted By | 8/7/15 4:24 AM
# Posted By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | 8/7/15 8:40 AM

I would think that those who release balloons are subject to fines or more, depending upon the jurisdiction. I know that balloon-releasing rituals have become part of certain occasions (birthdays, weddings and anniversaries immediately come to mind). I have made myself the least popular guest at several of these functions by pointing these facts out to the party.
# Posted By Littering? | 8/12/15 11:12 AM

You should address impacts of balloons that don't have strings since many mass releases don't have strings.
# Posted By Cypress | 8/12/15 12:31 PM

We have plenty of brainies around. Someone should invent an edible (by birds, turtles etc) baloon - maybe made of paper or straw ?!! Think.
# Posted By SIVASUBRAMANIAM KRISHNAN | 8/12/15 1:33 PM

Clemson University does a very large balloon release before every home football game...
# Posted By | 8/13/15 12:45 PM

Or maybe we humans could stop having such wasteful traditions? Instead of releasing "balloon like" objects why not turn that celebratory event into something more positive and less wasteful: Release floral/plant seeds into the wind?
# Posted By | 8/15/15 8:07 PM

I don't release balloons, largely because it simply doesn't appeal to me. But if it's such a big deal, maybe we should allowing oil to be transported by boat, require anyone who buys a pet(including fish and hamsters) to be trained and legally licensed, ban pet snakes because they eat mice, and outlaw eating meats. Just a thought.
# Posted By Get a life | 8/18/15 7:51 PM

To believe people have common sense is hopeless.102
# Posted By Terry McCloud | 8/22/15 4:10 PM

Get a Life, please just stick to the subject here. Releasing balloons into the air IS blatant littering and should be just as illegal as tossing trash onto the ground.
# Posted By FWS | 8/29/15 7:31 PM

Releasing balloons is totally preventable and there are so many safe and fun options! I got Burke county public schools to stop releases and would love to see other counties follow. I do have a petition on change.org asking Pat McCrory, the House and Senate to stop all launches in NC https://www.change.org/p/north-carolina-state-sena...
# Posted By Emma Brown | 10/10/15 11:18 AM

Did you know that Helium is used in cooling for the superconducting magnets in MRI scanners and there is no substitute for it due to Helium's low boiling point? It is also used in breathing ventilators for infants and the ill. In 1996, Nobel Prize winner Robert Richardson issued a warning that supplies of Helium are being used at an unimaginable rate and could be gone within a generation. Life saving device or wasteful littering?
I have a petition on change.org asking NC Senate, House, and Gov Pat McCrory to ban balloon releases https://www.change.org/p/north-carolina-state-sena...
# Posted By Emma Brown | 10/10/15 11:25 AM

What about providing bubbles to blow instead of releasing balloons?
# Posted By Kathy | 10/30/15 4:32 PM

Plant trees for celebrations, or in memory of loved ones!
# Posted By | 10/31/15 7:13 PM

Maybe a company will come up with environmentally safe balloons for wildlife.
# Posted By Vero | 12/16/15 9:48 PM

Isn't it time someone created a soy based balloon that is organic and biodegradable?
# Posted By | 12/31/15 12:04 PM

"Biodegradable" balloons do exist but they can take years to break down and can wreak havoc before they decompose. No balloons are safe to release and the ribbons attached are just as deadly to wildlife.
# Posted By Mindy | 4/13/16 12:17 PM

I love the idea of releasing wild flower seeds for celebrations. A family friend passed and she provided tulip bulbs to plant in her honor. Those is much more rewarding than any balloon. We need to be stewards of our earth and wildlife.
# Posted By | 5/3/16 12:01 PM

Wish laterns are biodegradable with no wires etc. They have a wax core you light and the paper balloon folks with hot air and you release it. It's made of tissue paper
# Posted By Kathie | 5/11/16 6:48 PM

Why are they even (still) legal. People have been harmed as well. Balloons are pointless, useless, and an anachronistic thing that nobody would miss if they were gone.
# Posted By E. Pidgeon | 5/13/16 3:38 PM

" Release floral/plant seeds into the wind?"

Yes, so we can all have unwanted flowers and weeds in our yards.

How about we release nothing?
# Posted By bergerbytes | 5/15/16 11:31 AM

And the remains of your half-burned tissue paper come down - where? In the Ocean? Waxy paper is still a pollutant. On land? Someone has to pick up the remains of your "wish" and dispose of it.

My "Wish" is that people learn to take responsibility for their actions.
# Posted By Dave | 5/16/16 9:06 AM

Please stop this totally unnecessary tradition.
# Posted By Josh Kahn | 5/22/16 9:23 AM

Maybe a thoughtful song to be played exhibiting the idea of balloons and recycling into synergenic conciousness for the better of the world not the deterioration of it .
# Posted By Mark | 5/27/16 3:09 PM

Sorry I am a little late on this. I only did it once in childhood, and never gave the practice much thought. Today I went to savethewhales.org and saw a reference to balloon releasing. Upon further web searching I found your site. Great job guys! Keep educating the public on this needless and harmful practice. I am definitely against it now.
# Posted By Ra | 7/8/16 12:49 PM

Today Indianapolis Motor Speedway released 27,000 balloons at the beginning of the Brickyard 400 as they do every year. This results in 27,000 unknown spots being littered upon, not to mention the risk to wildlife. How can we get this practice stopped? Love Nascar, but this has to stop.
# Posted By Whispers in the Wind | 7/24/16 3:35 PM

My husbandur home, from 1987 until 1992 In the summer of 1987, we conducted a necropsy on a leatherback turtle that washed to shore in New Jersey, where we found the neck of a white latex balloon blocking the entrance to the small intestine from the stomach and four feet of attached ribbon in the intestine. We turned the balloon work over to the Center for Marine Conservation in Washington DC, since they had a broad base and the resources we lacked.. We are happy to see that our early work is being carried on by the next generations. Thank you..
# Posted By Susan Hibbard | 8/18/16 6:40 PM

There are many ways to celebrate occasions and safe ways too!
Qualatex balloons are biodegradable and are great way to be kind to the environment. No one is going to stop doing what they do, some have made it a tradition, but the safe products aren't being advertised. The harmful products aren't being replaced either. I think in order to preserve our way of life we need to take out the old and replace it with the new!
# Posted By | 8/24/16 8:30 PM

As we have changed the throwing of rice at weddings to bird seed, there must be a substitute for balloons...
# Posted By | 8/25/16 2:28 PM

"Qualatex latex balloons are made from 100% natural latex — not plastic. Our latex balloons are biodegradable, and decompose as fast as an oak leaf in your backyard! "

Well, my backyard oak has several years of undecomposed leaves under it.

Degradable balloons are NOT the solution.


Balloons Blow! Don't let them go!
# Posted By | 8/25/16 4:53 PM

How about releasing real butterflies?
# Posted By | 8/27/16 2:49 PM

Helium is becoming rarer and is needed for other things like med tests so depleting for balloons that then endanger and sometimes kill animals makes moo sense. Stop please.
# Posted By red | 8/28/16 11:27 AM

I know releasing real butterflies sounds like a good alternative to balloon releasing, but it can have it's own ecological impacts. Especially non-native butterflies, when released can wreak havoc on native ecosystems.
# Posted By | 8/29/16 11:00 AM

I wish there were more awareness of the balloon releasing consequences.
Can you imagine hospitals and medical facilities releasing balloons?
Let them know through hospital assoc.
# Posted By Karenin Western Mass | 9/7/16 4:19 PM


I live in San Francisco, CA and our Zoo is right at the beach. One day I took a walk along Fort Funston beach and saw the most miserable sight: a balloon grave yard of mostly deflated, some barely floating balloons littering the beach. there had to be at least 20. A place where balloons from the zoo went to die. Not only was it sad but also telling the impact that released balloons have on the environment. Living on a Peninsula, eventually everything ends up on our water. I say ban balloons entirely. I'll never buy them again and always will point out the threat that balloons are to our environment and wildlife when seeing them used in celebrations. This is a topic that needs a wider audience and more activism.
# Posted By polynesian_metal | 9/8/16 1:56 AM

I've been to events where butterflies were released. Don't know what's involved, but if there's enough time to plan ahead, that's an environmentally safe alternative! I didn't read every single comment, so this may already have been suggested.
# Posted By | 9/10/16 10:53 AM

Just horrible. I did not know releasing balloons in the air hurt animals birds and strangled them. I am so so sorry. I agree. Don't release the hot air balloons. Please. Ban them please.
# Posted By | 9/11/16 10:23 PM
# Posted By | 10/11/16 6:40 PM
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