From The “When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring” Files: Photography Kills A Moose

“Yeah, the moose died, but we got a GREAT photo!”

For many reasons, some practical, some emotional, some neurotic, I don’t like cameras, I don’t like being photographed, and I have to fight the urge to dislike and distrust compulsive amateur picture-takers.  I know that’s a bias. I don’t think it informs my disgust with this story, however.

Vermont wildlife officials reported that a moose was resting on the shore at South Hero, which is part of Grand Isle in the middle of Lake Champlain, after swimming there from the New York shore, which borders the west side of the lake. A crowd of bystanders noticed the animal, and pushed in to take photographs of this wonder of nature.

This panicked the moose, who escaped back into the water. Exhausted, it drowned.  But I’m sure some of those tourists got some great shots.


I haven’t checked, but I’m pretty sure Professor Turley is furious over this. Selfish, ignorant tourists who harm the environment they are there to appreciate is one of his constant themes. Let’s see…I’m checking….nope, Turley hasn’t reacted yet.

Well, I will.

This is a pointless, tragic, negligent killing of an innocent animal. No photograph is worth the life of a vole, much less a moose, yet too many human beings are so addicted to recording the images of their oh so fascinating lives that they disconnect the ethics alarms and common sense alerts that should tell them instinctively that…

  • Intruding on nature threatens and harms it.
  • Reality is not best experienced  through a camera lens.
  • Nobody else can enjoy a natural scene when human beings insist on imposing on it.
  • The welfare of the wildlife should be the first consideration, not an afterthought.

What is an appropriate practical punishment for tourists who do things like this? Fines are not enough, and I guess public flogging is excessive.

I guess…

24 thoughts on “From The “When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring” Files: Photography Kills A Moose

  1. “Fines are not enough, and I guess public flogging is excessive.”

    I think we really blew it when we did away with the stocks. They could put it in a plexiglas cube or something so people couldn’t hit the convict with rocks and stuff.

    • …so people couldn’t hit the convict with rocks and stuff.

      You take all the fun out of it. We could only allow rotten vegetables, with the sentence transferred to any violator who throws anything else.

  2. I’m with you on most of this. I too hate being photographed. I think we should make a distinction between tourists with cameras and amateur photographers.

    As an amatuer photographer I practice what may be considered photography ethics. Because most of my picture taking takes place under 50 to 90 feet of water I am always concerned about my impact on the environment and my personel safety.
    I follow the following rules:
    The image I could obtain is less important than the stress I might place on the subject or myself.
    The subject must approach me and I may never chase down a subject.
    I must remain motionless while waiting for the opportunity to capture an image.
    Never join a group of others that converge on a subject.
    Use a lens that will capture the intended subject matter from the farthest practical distance. Unfortunately, the maximum practical distance is a mere 6 feet given the absorbtion of lighting underwater
    Never touch any living organism for any reason.

    These rules reduce if not eliminate the stresses on animal life but also help get better images.

    Scuba divers that violate the no touch rule are warned once. A second offense warrants being banned from going back in the water.

    As for these terrestrial shutterbugs, I believe they need to be forced to see the consequences of their actions. This is on the same level as the scoutmasters that pushed over ancient boulders in Utah.

  3. I hate photos too, Jack. Their ubiquity has led to my loathing, no doubt. I’m not inherently camera shy, but I have become so disgusted with it. The narcissism of the selfie-taking crowd and those who try to photograph everything in hopes of a viral Facebook, Twitter, Youtube or Instagram post disgust me particularly. And make no mistake, that’s a large factor, and perhaps the only thing, driving this rush to photography.

    Social media is the vehicle by which humanity will commit social seppuku. Looks like we’ll be taking a bunch of animals with us.

  4. I just finished an article about former “The Cosby Show” actor Geoffrey Owens, who played Cosby’s son-in-law. He was working between gigs at Trader Joe’s recently when some random stranger recognized him and got her yucks by snapping a photo of him and posting it online for the entire world to freak out over how he doesn’t look the same way he did 30 years ago and how his career must be at an end (despite a reasonably healthy IMDB profile).

    Thankfully, a mob didn’t chase him into a lake.

  5. I watch BBC documentaries about “Planet Earth.” I have sometimes wondered whether some of the close-ups of some of the wildlife in those documentaries have harmed the animals. Maybe some of the prep work done in order to capture that wildlife imagery has harmed the animals. I don’t know. But then, BBC doesn’t show me outtakes or gritty details about “the making of ‘Planet Earth’,” just a slick product. I am grateful for what I can learn from those documentaries, but am left with doubt about whether all that was done to enable my learning from them was ethical.

    • I would bet that the land shots are using some hugely expensive telephoto lenses. You cannot capture animals behaving normally by sticking a video camera in front of them.

      I believe the Planet Earth series is done in IMAX which would mean they are using the most sophisticated camera equipment in existence. When they filmed the Snow Leopard piece they were about 1000 feet from the subject. The videographers sat in a blind for two weeks before they spotted one on a ridge. You just won’t get close to most animals to capture natural unstressed behavior

  6. Would your opinion be different if the moose charged the photogs and hurt people? Did the photographers intend for the moose to drown. my guess is no?
    I have happened upon wildlife and couldn’t avoid disturbing them. I also have seen them off in the distance and kept my distance as to not to disturb them.
    I need to know more about the situation and the people taking the photo’s. My guess is that it was accidental and the photographers feel horrible about it.

    • Scott, Jack would call this moral luck. At issue isn’t the actual outcome but the human behavior that led up to the outcome.

      Coming upon wildlife accidentally is one thing but the first consideration is to your own safety which means you do not approach the animal. From there you back away giving the animal the widest berth an maximum number of escape routes.

      As for how the folks feel, I am sure drunk drivers that injure others feel horrible too.

    • From the source article: “When it reached the shore at South Hero – part of Grand Isle in the middle of the lake, it caught the attention of bystanders who reportedly crowded around the animal while it was resting.”

      Unless the article got its facts wrong, those people were being very stupid. If they’re stupidity got one of THEM killed (moose can be pretty touchy) it wouldn’t change the fact that they were stupid. Not malicious, but still stupid, and an object lesson on what NOT to do.

    • If the moose charged and hurt people, the injured would be 100% accountable.Their intentions are irrelevant. “I didn’t mean it” is a child’s excuse. Their actions were wrongful and reckless, and would be just as much so if the moose loved the attention and licked their stupid faces.

      • Jack, why is this an ethics issue at all? You comment about ethics alarms not going off but what about the ethics alarms that go off all the time. They both get ignored!
        If I took a picture of a bird and it flew into a window and died and a result would that be an ethical dilemma as well?

        So if the photographers ethics alarms went off they would have not taken a picture? “Hey honey I saw a moose today”, “Cool did you get a picture?”, “No that would have been unethical since somehow I would have the knowledge that the moose just swam across the lake and will decide to try and swim back and die!”
        Does that sound about right to you?
        Sounds like Moral unluck to me.

        • If their ethics alarms were functioning, they wouldn’t have gotten so close. I’ve taken pictures of moose, from the other side of a body of water, and wouldn’t have dreamed of trying to get closer. Respecting wildlife is indeed an ethical consideration, for multiple reasons. For one thing, The park management, or whoever’s over the wilderness area in question doesn’t want to have to worry about being sued, or hauling some idiot’s carcass out after they tried to pet a bear cub. For another, people keeping a respectful distance encourages the animals to keep a respectful distance, so they don’t get in the habit of chasing or stalking people, depending on people for food, or wrecking campsites.

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