Look at these harbor seals. They appear to be lounging on the ice at the end of the world, but they're not. They're sunning in the waterway behind Ocean City, Maryland, not far from a wilderness of parking lots, roads and strip malls. Right now in Maryland and Virginia, developers are fighting to undermine new pollution control rules that would force them to filter rainwater running off of parking lots, so that it doesn't flush hot oil, gasoline, anti-freeze, dirt and other pollutants into the bedrooms of animals like these seals.
These photos were taken on January 16 by Sean McCandless, a municipal stormwater inspector, past contributor to Bay Daily, and organizer for the Cecil County, Maryland, Bird Club. Sean has professional experience with how critical it is for this stormwater to be properly controlled and filtered so that it does not kill wildlife. And he knows why the new state runoff regulations are necessary.
"Mammals and Birds have an natural oil coat that keeps them waterproof and warm in the frigid waters this time of year," Sean said. "Motor oils and gasoline can break down that natural oil barrier and cause an issue with these animals staying properly insulated. Not to mention those pollutants being ingested by the shellfish and other aquatic creatures that the birds and mammals feed on, which then can cause health issues."
"It's a never ending cycle, and clean water is the critical element of this planet," he said. "Without it, the circle of life is disrupted --including our own."
For a wildlife photographer like Sean, cameras are his windows into the world. So it was devastating for him when someone broke into his truck last summer and stole all of his cameras and equipment.
"It was a very depressing time for me," he recalls.
But, after several months of wrangling with his insurance company, the firm finally picked up most of the bill for replacing the cameras. And so now Sean is back with a renewed eye for nature -- as these photos vividly illustrate.
"This is Merlin at his normal place next the the Verrazano Bridge on Assateague Island," Sean says.
He's looking for... a magical spell that will turn developers into toads.
These are surf scoters flying in formation on Assateague Island.
To see all of Sean's photos, click here.
This is ring-billed gull at the Ocean City inlet wearing what appears to be wearing neon jewelry (in poor taste). The orange tags were put there by wildlife scientists who are trying to monitor gull populations.
Sean tracked the tag numbers back to a database that shows that this bird road-tripped all the way down to Maryland's Eastern Shore from Massachusetts. The same bird was captured with crackers as bait and a rocket-powered net on December 15 at White City Plaza, in Shrewsbury, MA.
And this is a Wilson's snipe, sailing high in the winter sky.
Wildlife like this can't soar and swim and inspire all of us if it is poisoned by our parking lots.
"When I do see wonderful things such as those harbor seals, it really sets in perspective what I am fighting for every day at my work," Sean said. "The things that are being choked out every day that don't have a voice... and yet are essential for the existence of our planet."
Thanks, Sean, for giving them a face, with your photographs, and a voice, with your words.