While returning to Santa Barbara Harbor after a late charter, I spotted something so amusing that I just had to heave to and enjoy the show with my passengers.

It was sundown at the bait receiver. The human attendants had long since gone home for the day, and the birds had taken over.

The usual feathered suspects were lined up along the edge of the floating wooden dock, and five birds’ heads turned slowly in unison to watch a school of baitfish swim by just inches too far under the surface of the water. The birds were all waiting and hoping for a fish or pinniped to drive the bait to the surface within reach of their quick, hungry beaks.

It was a scene of total concentration but with a sense of comic relief. Each bird has such a characteristic shape and stance that each one brought a celebrity to mind.


The night heron, with its hunched neckless form, could be none other than Ed Sullivan before a “really good shew.” The pelican had a Keith Richards look. What really scares me about global nuclear war is that everyone would be dead except, of course, Richards, who would somehow carry on our species and then everyone would look like that! The gaunt snowy egret looked like Steve Martin doing his best gawky-walk. The tall blue heron, with his feathers ruffled, reminded me of Jimi Hendrix preparing to kiss the sky. The final suspect was a cormorant doing a Jim Carrey stretch.

I find much to be amused at in nature, and I’m thankful because it keeps my head screwed on straight — as long as I never lose sight of the reality of nature.

The savage life and death struggle of the food chain is an ever-present disciplinary force in the lives of nearly every critter besides us. We risk losing sight of that basic truth when we assign human characteristics to critters. Movies like Bambi, The Lion King and Finding Nemo distort the realities of the natural order. Those are wonderful entertaining movies, but I too often hear people talking about animals as if they believe the values from the movies actually exist in nature or between people and critters.

Fisheries management and shoreside wildlife management include carefully controlled fishing and hunting as a method of keeping all the critters of nature in balance. If we wrap our arms around the food chain, we’d better be prepared to wrap our arms around the entire food chain and manage it holistically rather than protect by the cute factor (which says that the cutest critters get the greatest protection). We are wisest when we manage for sustainability, rather than let preservationists talk us into locking people out of the process. Hunting for the family table is an important function of management.

Those birds I was musing over were hunting for their table, too.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Capt. David Bacon, Noozhawk Columnist

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.