Richard King on “The Devil’s Cormorant: A Natural History”

Rich King is the senior lecturer in Literature of the Sea with the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program as well as an accomplished writer. He is the Series Editor for a forthcoming collection of books about America’s relationship with the sea published by the University Press of New England and writes a quarterly column titled “Animals in Sea History” for Sea History magazine. Moreover, he is the author of two books: Lobster (2011) and most recently, The Devil’s Cormorant: A Natural History (2013). During his Log Lunch talk, King talked about the research he did for The Devil’s Cormorant and how we have come to our perceptions of the bird.

King’s interest in cormorants began in 1998 when he read an article about the slaughter of 2000 cormorants off Henderson Harbor, NY. After reading the story he wanted to know why there was a disparity between how these people despised cormorants while others valued them immensely. He decided to use the double-crested cormorant as a case study and traveled all over the United States and the world to get a better understanding of the historic relationship between people and these birds. Through his travels, King met several interesting figures including the leader of the Henderson Bay cormorant slaughter, who believes that the birds are affecting the recreational fish stocks, as well as a mariner in Japan who loved the birds and believed they were a symbol of God on earth.

King also looked into literature to figure out the historic perceptions of cormorants. Historically, cormorants have been viewed as dirty especially in the Bible. Furthermore, Shakespeare often linked the birds with greed which King suspects could be due to the fact that people only ever see the birds eating on the land when the fish are of a particularly large size.

Beyond literature, King researched the history of the birds in the Peruvian guano trade and the current conflict between land conservationists and bird conservationists. Still, he also looked to other mediums such as one Seattle-based artist who connected maternity to cormorants. King argued that it was easy to see how our perceptions of cormorants have been shaped by a multitude of sources throughout history into our modern day.

To learn more about Rich King’s book, The Devil’s Cormorant: A Natural History, click here:

By Helen Song ’14

Rich King with Williams-Mystic Spring '13 students
Rich King with Williams-Mystic Spring ’13 students