Rabbi Milevsky's Thought of the Week: Shemini - 5779
THE CORMORANT DIVE
In Pareshat Shemini, the Torah introduces the laws of kosher and non-kosher species.
Animals and fish are identified as kosher by characteristics. Birds, on the other hand, are listed. Technically, any bird that is not mentioned as one of the 24 non-kosher species is kosher. However, due to the exile and geographic dispersion from the region, we are no longer able to identify these birds, and only eat birds based on a Masoret, a tradition.
One of the birds on this list is the Shalach, translated as the pelican or the cormorant. The Talmud in Chulin 63a states: Rav Yehuda says: the Shalach (listed as a non-kosher bird) is the bird that scoops [sholeh] fish out of the sea. The Gemara adds that when Rabbi Yocḥanan would see a Shalach, he would say: “Your judgments are like the great deep” (Psalms 36:7) since Hashem exacts retribution even upon the fish in the deep sea. Rashi notes that Rabbi Yocḥanan is addressing the tendency of the cormorant to find fish on the bottom of the ocean.
About seven years ago, scientists in Argentina attached a lipstick-sized video camera to a cormorant's back. The footage showed the bird diving 46 metres to the sea floor to catch a fish. They noted that the dive was "far deeper than researchers thought cormorants could plunge."
This great surprise to the scientists was known to Rabbi Yocḥanan 1,800 years ago!