Dark Angels


Dark Angels



[E]veryone in Cape San Lucas hates cormorants. They are the flies in a perfect ecological ointment. . . . They dive and catch fish, but also they drive the schools away from the pier out of easy reach of the baitmen. They are considered interlopers, radicals, subversive forces against the perfect and God-set balance on Cape San Lucas. And they are rightly slaughtered, as all radicals should be.
John Steinbeck
The Sea of Cortez

Steinbeck was being facetious, of course, but cormorants, corvus marinus, sea ravens, shags, black water rats have been given a bad rap, not only in Cape San Lucas, but around the world. Here in Maine as well. Commercial fisherman say they are “good for nothing but bait,” and blame them for harming fisheries. Environmentalists say cormorants destroy the ecosystems of their nesting sites with their highly acidic guano. Boaters say cormorant guano is impossible to scrape off their yachts. Thus, cormorants have been systematically slaughtered for hundreds of years.

European settlers set out to eradicate them from New England, and they had succeeded by the early 1800’s. Conservation efforts in the 19th and early 20th Centuries brought cormorants back to Maine with the help of The Migratory Bird Act of 1918, although it excluded cormorants and other “vermin” birds—including eagles, hawks, and owls. Mass exterminations of cormorants peaked in the 1940’s and 50’s. Hunting, egg oiling, and pesticides decimated the birds. Nevertheless, cormorants persisted.

The tide changed again in 1972 with an amendment to the Migratory Bird Act which protected even vermin birds, cormorants included. There is no conclusive scientific evidence that cormorants harm fisheries and there are non-lethal ways to discourage them from nesting in certain places and shitting on sailboats. Cormorants may even benefit some local marine ecosystems. But age-old prejudices die hard. Many people still believe that having been given “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28) that it’s perfectly OK to wipe God’s creatures clean off the earth.

Cormorants deserve a place in our “ecological ointment.” They were here long before we were, perched on granite outcroppings, wings spread to dry, beaks tipped to the sun, striking poses with the high drama of Kabuki actors. LONG LIVE RADICALS!

Leslie Moore


Cormorant, corvus marinus, "sea raven"

17 shags balance on the high wire that spans
the Passagassawakeag at the Narrows
where the Upper Bridge used to be.

They shuffle flat webbed feet, better suited
to swimming than perching, teeter,
face downriver, beaks tilted into the breeze.

Some preen feathers with hooked bills.
Others hang inky wings to dry. They croak
companionably. Shit milky streams of guano.

A mile upriver, on a quiet inlet, a lone shag
stands on a dead limb that straddles the water.
Maybe the others were mean to him, Tom says.

I chuckle, but I want to stand with this bird.
Escape the crowd and its glib camaraderie.
Let my thoughts slow to the flow of the river.

Leslie Moore


Leslie Moore


January 2022


19" x 25" framed



Leslie Moore, “Dark Angels,” All of Belfast: Climate Dialogues, accessed July 3, 2022, https://abcdbelfast.omeka.net/items/show/75.

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Thomas Patrick Walsh

That was nicely presented for some enjoyable late night imaging. Indeed-Long live the radicals. Prose, poetry and art-the trifecta. Well done young lady!

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