Readers’ wildlife photos

All of us must die, and the only solace that animals have is that they have no idea it’s coming. (I still think that we’re the only species whose members are aware of their own personal mortality.) Reader Ed Kroc sent a series of photos detailing the death of a common murre. Such tragedies happen by the millions every day, but most animals die alone, undocumented, and unmourned. This is a tribute to all of them—and to Ed, who hiked three kilometers with the injured bird and then drove 100 km to try to get her help.

Ed’s notes are indented:

Here’s a set of wildlife photos with a sad but important accompanying story. On a trip to Port Renfrew on the west coast of Vancouver Island, I encountered this ailing Common Murre (Uria aalge). She was swimming slowly around a small corner of Botany Bay, trying periodically to leap up to the rocky ledges, but flailing and falling back into the water each time. We had just experienced rough storms and I thought she might be exhausted from the wind and surf. I watched her for about 20 minutes from a distance, taking pictures. But then she saw me and started to paddle over to the rocks where I was crouched alone.

murre-1

murre-2

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The rocks sloped down into the water, and I was right at the edge. She swam right by me and beached herself about 2 metres from where I was, paddling right onto the rocks and letting the ebbing tide wash her ashore. She stared right at me while I was busy taking pictures, and I soon realized this was no accident. She could not stand or walk. Her body was limp, exhausted from struggling against the tides for hours, maybe days. Her wings hung lifelessly, and her eyes looked heavier than solid iron. I do think that she had beached herself hoping for an intervention. Likely, she saw me as a large mammal, like a bear or a wolf, and hoped that I would simply offer relief in the form of a quick death.

murre-4

I sloshed through the tide and stumbled down beside her. She did not move or show distress, just looked right at me. So I picked her up and placed her in my toque. She did not struggle, but just closed her eyes and held her head up high to the sun.

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I carefully clambered back around the cove and hiked the 3 kilometres back to my car with her in hand. The sun had set by the time I reached the parking lot. It was a weekend and the only place for help still open was the Central Victoria Veterinary Hospital 100+ kilometres away.

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I tucked her into the back seat, using my scarf and a spare towel to secure her as best I could for the winding drive back to Victoria. The usual 2 hour drive took closer to 4 hours since I had to take each curve slowly so she wouldn’t roll helplessly around the back seat. When I made it to the hospital, she gave me a tired but unafraid look as I picked her up and brought her in for treatment. It was only then that I found out that her pelvis was shattered, completely crushed, either by a predator or by debris from the earlier storms, and she had been languishing for several days in the bay. Unable to dive for fish, she had been slowly starving and withering away (she was less than half her healthy weight). The kind veterinary staff kept her warm and peacefully ended her too brief life in the presence of other empathetic animals.

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Life is often cut short and there is much suffering that we cannot control. But when we act on a chance to ease pain, even – and perhaps especially – if it is only to end hopeless suffering that cannot be cured, we can in a way transcend the capriciousness of existence. Any chance to ease suffering should be seized, unapologetically. This is a major reason why I detest religious intrusion into matters of morality. While most people are fine with prescribing euthanasia for non-human animals in the throes of hopeless suffering, the line is always drawn with humans. Protecting the “soul”, the selfish “sanctity” of human life, even when that life is steeped in hopeless agony, and then revelling in that suffering – this is moral bankruptcy and religious depravity at its zenith.

This murre was beautiful and unique, and though her life ended with too much pain, I am extremely grateful to have helped ease that final suffering a bit, to have helped her go in warmth instead of waste. It continues to be a major failing of most modern societies that we refuse to extend that same decency to our own species. (Thankfully, Canada at least is on the right track.)

That’s all for now, and sorry for the downer. But some of the pictures are not bad and that murre was certainly beautiful.

*********

Here is a healthy murre and the species’ range map, both from the Cornell site:

comu_andy

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35 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted December 14, 2016 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    😦

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 14, 2016 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    To rescue the bird is a great thing to have done, even if the outcome is not what we would want.

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 14, 2016 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Very important story. Nobody gets to escape death but how we treat death and the dying is about who we are. Does not matter what species of animal either. Just because religion makes a distinction does not make it so.

  4. Posted December 14, 2016 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    The comment Ed makes about easing suffering and the intrusion of religion in the process is the best summary of the concept I have ever read.

  5. Posted December 14, 2016 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Jerry, usually I enjoy the Readers’ Wildlife Photos post, but I especially enjoyed reading (though not the outcome) of this one.

    Carl Kruse

    • Posted December 14, 2016 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      Yes, the photos were not only very good, but Ed also wrote a moving tribute to the bird and a meditation on how our own species deals with death.

  6. Posted December 14, 2016 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    gentle and written with such empathy. I am grateful for the kindness some humans have.

  7. dougeast
    Posted December 14, 2016 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Read this one with a lump in my throat. Well done Sir…

    • Posted December 14, 2016 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Me too. A beautiful story, beautifully lived and well-told.

  8. darrelle
    Posted December 14, 2016 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Ed, you are a good person. Your commentary was well written and very moving. A very sad story, but the kind that you are better off for having read.

  9. Claudia Baker
    Posted December 14, 2016 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    So beautifully written Ed. Thanks for telling us about it and most of all for doing what you did.

    What got me the most: “…just closed her eyes and held her head up high to the sun.” And then the picture of that. Wow.

  10. Glen Tarr
    Posted December 14, 2016 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    So what was a common murre doing in Australia?

    • allison
      Posted December 14, 2016 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, presumably.

  11. HaggisForBrains
    Posted December 14, 2016 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Very moving. My late wife, dying of cancer, was fortunate to have me by her side to help when she told me she was “ready to go now”. We had been campaigning for a change in the law in Scotland, to allow assisted dying. We were unsuccessful in that, so the campaign continues. Sometimes you just have to ignore a stupid law.

    • Posted December 14, 2016 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Well done; my condolences.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 14, 2016 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      I emphatically agree, Haggis, and sympathise. That is the one thing that makes me feel most bloodthirsty towards Catholics and fundamentalists. Any move towards easing the suffering of victims gets blocked by pernicious ‘right to lifers’ and their lying thin-edge-of-the-wedge arguments.
      My mother (who had always believed in euthanasia, by the way) died of cancer in hospital, demanding (when she could talk) that she be put out of her misery. Of course there was nothing – legal – that anyone could do. I don’t know if anyone eventually cranked up the painkillers to over 100, and I never dared ask. I’d like to think so but it’s probably wishful thinking.

      cr

    • rickflick
      Posted December 14, 2016 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      Sad, but, good for you.

  12. Marina
    Posted December 14, 2016 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Thanks Ed, your kindness is a consolation. My grandfather didn’t believe in any god but he used to call animals “silent souls”.I think it was a respectful, affectionate and correct definition.

    • Posted December 14, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Silent souls is a very beautiful description.

  13. rickflick
    Posted December 14, 2016 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I’m still working through Pinker’s “Better Angels…”, and this story of rescue is in extreme contrast to past ages when bear bating, cat burning, and immense cruelty reigned as the norm (both animal and human victims). Our sense of who is included in our circle of compassion has grown substantially over the past centuries and decades.

  14. busterggi
    Posted December 14, 2016 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Its so hard to keep rescued birds alive – most I’ve worked with did not make it.

  15. Posted December 14, 2016 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful and moving. Thanks.

  16. Posted December 14, 2016 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    I wonder about the other animals thing sometimes. I was the only one around when my sister’s first cat was getting to the end of her life, so I was I expecting to have to do something. She did shuffle outside and walk towards the edge of the garden to lie down towards the end, as if to isolate herself. I had to use a neighbour’s help to get her to the vet to do the deed, though. It was amazing seeing the change in what in a human I would call anxiety, once the tranq (or whatever) hit. Also very sad, of course.

    • Posted December 14, 2016 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      I’ve had to help three kitties “across the line” and is was very painful each time. But in each case, it was undoubtedly the right thing to do.

      As I tell people, if we are lucky, we will outlive our pets. No other way to look at it as far as I’m concerned.

      I gave them excellent lives, to the best of my ability, and helped ease their passage out of our world. They gave me friendship and comfort. They were fine little beasts.

  17. Posted December 14, 2016 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Great story.

    Generosity is not really about the one receiving the help/care. It’s really about the giver.

    It spins the world in the right direction (especially for you). One more hand to the wheel, giving a little shove, making things better, slowly, slowly.

  18. nwalsh
    Posted December 14, 2016 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Ed for one of the most heart warming threads here.

  19. Posted December 14, 2016 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Thanks everyone for the very kind comments, and for the other personal stories of dealing with the reality of death.

  20. barn owl
    Posted December 14, 2016 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    So bittersweet, and documented with beautiful photos. Thank you for your kindness in helping this bird, Ed, and thanks to you and Jerry for sharing the story.

  21. Posted December 14, 2016 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    I have rescued over 72 cats since I was a child, and doing so provided me with an opportunity to learn many lessons from these wonderful creatures. I have lost s couple to heart defects or disease, a couple killed by dogs or accidents, but I am grateful I now know enough to see when it is time to take them to the vet. I have regretted that only once when I had to take Blondie to a vet I did not know.

    I now see it as the ultimate act of love to know them well, look for the signs, and relieve them through medical care. I grieve the loss, but have learned that often the Universe brings a new volunteer to my life when the tie is right. I open my heart and in they walk.

    So touched by your sweet and sad story. That bird’s picture gazing into the arm sun in your loving hands will stay in my memory. You are a fine human being.

  22. josh
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Well done Ed.

  23. John Kroc
    Posted December 15, 2016 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Because of the Murre and you, we know now what Sisyphus feels as he yet again pushes up the boulder. You are my son, and I am so proud of you, and I love you very much.


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