I am typically early to all appointments and this December morning was no different. I arrived to photograph a local parade for the newspaper and as I prepared my gear while still in my car, I spotted a cormorant in the canal just beyond where I was parked. I quickly attached my long lens to snap a few shots at just the time when his head dove into the water and quickly reappeared with a fish tightly gripped in his long beak. I watched as he carefully maneuvered the fish in every position possible, but refused to swallow the fish. People on the other side of the canal were also intently watching and wondering aloud why the bird would not swallow the fish. The cormorant swam with the fish up and down the canal as if pacing while trying to make a decision on what to do with the fish. At one point, it appeared he dropped the fish, but surprisingly was able to again retrieve it from the water. In the end, he released the fish and flew away.
It was the oddest thing to see this bird struggle to swallow the fish. We all left shaking our heads at what we had seen. For everyone but me, that was the end of the story.
I went on to photograph the parade then headed to my office to process the images and get them to my editor. I was under a time crunch and did not look at the cormorant pictures that day. It was weeks later before I took a look at the pictures and the mystery was revealed.
The cormorant was a lot smarter than any of us gave him credit for. I was able to enlarge the image to see a fish hook lodged firmly in the mouth of the fish. The cormorant knew he could not risk swallowing the fish, despite his repeated attempts to try to position the fish and even grasping the hook at one point, he was unable to free it from the fish.
I think we can all relate to an event in our lives when we were presented with something we wanted so badly we could taste it, yet a voice in the back of our head kept telling us it was not right. Such was the case with the cormorant. He so desperately wanted that fish, but knew of the imminent danger if he swallowed it. He showed great restraint in looking at every possible angle before deciding he had to let it go. Unfortunately, such a temptation is hard to resist in the human species. I think the vast majority would eat the fish and suffer the consequences, no matter how dire. I think we can all learn a lesson from the cormorant. If a nagging voice inside your head tells you to walk away, look at all the options and make a wise decision. The best decision might be to let go and pursue another fish.