by Lowell Bliss
If ever you are having trouble generating a new post for your creation care/environmental missions blog, just go outside for a walk. You are bound to stumble upon a morality tale.
I live in Ontario on the north shore of Lake Erie. It’s a short fifteen-minute walk to Nickel Beach where this morning I saw a body of a cormorant (family Phalacrocoracidae) laying on the sand. “Oh, it’s dead,” my wife said sympathetically when I showed her this photo. “Yes, things die,” I said cavalierly. It would have been more disturbing if I had returned home with a photo of a dead Fowler’s toad; they are an endangered species endemic to our little portion of the Niagara peninsula.
“Yes, things die,” I said, “but look at this photo and see if you can tell me how the bird died.”
She was first afraid that our dog had attacked it, greatly overestimating our dog’s prowess and her husband’s strength on the other end of the leash. I had walked up to the bird expecting to find bits of plastic—straws, Tim Hortons coffee lids, etc.—extruding from its belly, like in so many of the photos that my conservationist friends post on my Facebook wall. But no. No outside force—animal or human—killed this bird. It had committed suicide, albeit inadvertently.
I had a discovered a morality tale. Please don’t worry, we humans are off the hook in this incident. It wasn’t plastic in our waterways; it wasn’t because of an oil spill; it wasn’t what the fishing industry calls unintentional “bi-kill.” We humans are off the hook, unless we fail to learn the lesson of this “tale.” (And there, I’ve given you two clues in that last sentence about what killed this cormorant.) Examine the photo again. Protruding out by the bird’s tail can you spot the outline of a mouth? Up at the top of the bird’s stomach, can you see the scales?
A cormorant is a sizeable bird, but so was the fish (which may be a large mouth bass) that it had tried to swallow. This bird was killed by its own inadvisable greed.
I admit to being impressed that it could have even swallowed such a large fish. How is that possible with that beak and that jaw and that throat? As an aside, part of this bird’s misfortune was being born near the Niagara River, as compared to the Nagara River in China. A type of fishing called ukai uses trained cormorants and has been going on uninterrupted for 1300 years. A ring is placed around the cormorant’s neck so that it can swallow small fish only. The large ones get caught in the bird’s throat and the fishermen can retrieve the fish as part of the day’s catch.
But I find myself impressed by a lot of the technology that fuels our deadly consumeristic habits. For example, we all know about the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform that exploded in 2010, killing eleven workers, and leaking 3.19 million barrels of oil into the Gulf Mexico. Biologists estimate that the oil spill killed 82,000 birds of 102 species, cormorants among them. But what you may not have ever heard is that a year earlier, the Deepwater Horizon had set a record for drilling the deepest oil well in human history, a vertical depth of 35,050 ft (10,683 meters.) It could drill a mile below the surface of the ocean. Wow. But like our cormorant discovered: just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.