10,000 Birds readers love terrific bird photography but hate bird abuse. That’s why reader Charlie Gordon wanted to share this disturbing story. Charlie is an amateur nature photographer from Singapore who has been birdwatching for close to 15 years now. He was first drawn to birding after realising that even the most urbanised spaces could harbour relatively high levels of bird diversity, and now spends time exploring other birding habitats around the region.
The use of bait in bird photography continues to be a controversial issue, but some instances of baiting clearly cross ethical boundaries into the realm of the unthinkable.
Recently, a group of nature photographers were spotted using live fish to bait a family of Grey-headed Fish Eagles in Singapore, where the species is listed as Critically Endangered, with only about 12-18 breeding individuals left in the wild.
A Grey-headed Fish Eagle photographed ethically
The purpose of using bait was to be able to capture action shots of the bird swooping in for the kill. Doing so, however, presented a few problems. First, the fish had to be alive and struggling otherwise the fish eagles would ignore it. Second, the fish needed to be afloat at the water’s surface so the photographers would know where to point their lenses in anticipation of an eagle’s approach.
These photographers came up with an utterly horrifying solution: A photographer used a twig he picked off the ground to stuff pieces of white material into the fish’s mouth. These were polystyrene foam chunks (also known as styrofoam), used to ensure that the fish does not sink but instead remains afloat on the water’s surface.
Photographer stuffing a piece of polystyrene foam into the fish’s mouth
One photographer used a syringe to inject air into the fish’s swim bladder, thus preventing it from being able to control its own buoyancy. The fish was then passed to the second guy, who then promptly filled the fish with styrofoam, before the fish was handed off to a third guy to be thrown into the pond, whilst the photographers prepare for the eagles to get interested in the hopefully still struggling but fatally injured polystyrene foam-filled fish. Altogether a slick operation, but an undeniably cruel one.
Fish slipping out of the photographer’s hand while he attempts to inject its swim bladder with air
While there are instances where there may potentially be justifications for using bait to photograph birds, this is clearly not one of them. Aside from the incredible cruelty of tampering with a live fish’s swim bladder and force-feeding it with polystyrene, there is the most important issue of the critically endangered fish eagles consuming pieces of polystyrene foam when they eat the fish.
This is no longer nature photography and it is nothing that anyone should be proud of.