January 22, 2022
Column

Strange world of wildlife law

News stories about wildlife are standard fare here in Maine, of course, but rarely are we treated to such a curious collection of critters as the ones making headlines recently.

Let’s face it, your average moose-on-the-loose tale simply is no match for a 150-year-old seagull, illicit Alaskan walrus bones, and a school of computerized carp.

In case you haven’t been tracking this exotic menagerie in the media lately, here’s a rundown.

Last week, the owner of Cappy’s Chowder House in Camden, Johanna Tutone, was stunned when a couple of federal fish and wildlife agents, dressed in camouflage, visited her popular restaurant to inform her that she was in possession of an illegal dead seagull.

It seems that the stuffed bird, which for two decades has been peering down its beak at diners from a Victorian-era gilded wall frame, violates a 1918 law that forbids the sale or purchase of protected migratory birds.

Tutone, who bought the ornately displayed seagull at an estate auction 20 years ago, was told she could no longer keep the relic, even though the date on the back of the frame indicates that its final pre-stuffed migration probably occurred sometime around 1854.

With the help of Sen. Olympia Snowe, Tutone was able to avoid six months in jail and a $500 fine by agreeing to donate her feathered art object to the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport.

But for the two agents, the highly unusual workday was not quite over.

According to the Portland Press Herald, after their seagull bust the pair traveled to Boothbay Harbor to seize the remains of a Pacific walrus that were on display at a clothing store.

The store owner, Sewall Maddocks, explained that he found the walrus skull and tusk in the late 1980s or early 1990s when he was fishing commercially off Alaska and the remains got caught in a net.

Maddocks brought the walrus parts back to Maine and stored them in his home. Over the years his kids have even hauled them to school for show-and-tell, which must have been quite a task considering the curios weigh from 20 to 30 pounds.

The bones eventually wound up on display at the store he bought last year, where someone spotted them and promptly called the authorities.

Because walruses are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Press Herald reported, Boothbay’s bony remains were confiscated and are now being held in evidence storage.

The seagull woman and the walrus man, who also is seeking Snowe’s help in the matter, were upset about the busts, complaining that sending agents on such missions was both a ridiculous waste of manpower and taxpayer dollars.

And while we’re on the subject of animals in the news, let’s not forget about the koi controversy that’s been generating publicity for about a year now.

It appears that the owner of the China Rose Restaurant in Freeport is going to get back his 10 ornamental carp that state fish and wildlife officials seized from his aquarium last summer for fear that the foot-long fish could threaten the native species if they were to be released into Maine waters.

The reunion of the man and his fish comes with a few restrictions, however, as well as the possibility of a $1,000 fine for illegally importing koi. The restaurant owner can no longer publicly display his “good luck fish,” for instance, and must have microchips inserted inside them so their whereabouts can be monitored.

There’s been no indication yet that the Freeport koi man intends to complain to Snowe, who’s already got enough oddball animal issues to deal with.

Who knew wildlife laws could be so complicated?

We prohibit two Mainers from possessing an old stuffed seagull and some dredged-up walrus bones, which pose no harm unless they happened to fall off the wall and conk someone on the head, yet we make exceptions for another that allow him to keep an invasive species of fish that has the potential to upset the balance of nature in the state’s waters.

Maybe Olympia will be able to figure it all out.


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