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Creature From The Black Lagoon: HALLOWEEN EDITION

October 31, 2014

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MAKE THAT BLACK CREATURE FROM THE LAGOON: THE DEVIL BIRDS- CORMORANTS

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Along with its unlucky dark compatriots, the bat, the raven and the black cat, the cormorant’s deep midnight coloring brings fearful associations to the minds of many. True, those many in the case of cormorants are often coastal commercial fishermen, aquaculturists and sports fishing business owners, but dark coloring is all too often still associated with the uncertain safety of night on subconscious levels, with roots going far back in human history. The Bible and Shakespeare associate cormorants with bad luck, evil or gluttony, and Milton has the devil himself appear as a cormorant.

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And it can be hard to deny that the cormorant’s commonly seen pose, with wings stretched out to absorb heat, can echo notes of Dracula with his black cape sweeping, or an angel of death with black wings extended. As Richard J. King, author of The Devil’s Cormorant points out, think about a black bear cub and a polar bear cub – which is cutest? If you answered the polar bear cub it is almost certainly due to its lighter coloring.

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So what does this mean for the dark, but for most of us beautiful bird…

Along Santa Monica Bay, there are three types of cormorants, the smallest, the Pelagic, seen only on the ocean or on rocky ocean outcrops, the Brandt’s, seen near the ocean or shoreline, and the largest and most common, the Double Crested, seen along shorelines, but also inland waterways.

CsinTrees  At Malibu Lagoon, Double Crested Cormorants are hard to miss, perched on tree snags in the lagoon waters or along the lagoon shore.

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DSCN3271 With thick, hooked beaks and large webbed feet they are ideally designed to dive and catch fish, water snakes, and eels. And herein lies the trouble for those that hate them: They are good at what they do – catching fish. But this is no different to many pelagic and shore birds or other water birds such as egrets, which are often revered for their beauty (and mostly, incidentally, colored white).

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Egret&Cor Is it superstitious prejudice or fact based on the part of those who make a livelihood from fishing? Biologists from both sides of the debate can cite studies and facts in support of their arguments.

WingedC Cormorants eat fish opportunistically. They do not target any particular species and will predate the fish that are easiest for them to predate. This can often mean farmed fish. But if we shoot thousands and thousands of cormorants to protect fish stocks as has been done many times on the east coast and is about to be done on the Columbia River, will this end the problem? Unlikely. Other predators will appear to fill the void (and already there are mass shootings of sea lions on the Columbia River for the exact same reason). A better long-term solution is to find ways of making aquaculture safe from predators (since we can’t indefinitely slaughter all ocean predators) and for sports fishermen to look beyond the so-easy-to-see and therefore target, big black cormorants, to overfishing, pollution and changing ocean temperatures as well as other species.

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DDT made cormorants a very uncommon sight for decades until it’s effects started to be reversed following changes in the law. In dealing with efficient fishing birds like cormorants, a sustainable, working policy needs to be explored and developed so that people and wildlife can both prosper.

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Meanwhile, on Santa Monica Bay, cormorants are once again a common sight. And its size and coloring can bring with it a majesty that leaves no room for superstition or folkloric associations with bad luck and evil.

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So if you see a cormorant this Halloween — consider yourself very lucky indeed.

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Happy Halloween.

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Laurel Hoctor Jones, Education Chair

All photos by me taken 2013-2014

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One Comment
  1. Lina Gallucci permalink
    October 31, 2014 8:54 am

    Thank you!

    Date: Fri, 31 Oct 2014 13:02:24 +0000 To: linagallucci@hotmail.com

    Like

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