7 Unlikely Seagull Enemies
The seagull—scourge of the beach-blanket snacker, parking-lot pest—is nobody's favorite. Birding guides will tell you that seagulls have no natural enemies, which is mostly true. But once in a while, somebody’s had enough.
1. A Manipulative Dolphin
At Mississippi’s Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, dolphins are trained to help keep their own pools clean by bringing any litter they find to a trainer. For each piece of garbage a dolphin delivers, he or she gets a fish. One day, a seagull landed in Kelly the dolphin’s pool. She obediently brought it to her trainer, who rewarded her with extra fish.
If this was some other animal, the story might have ended there. But Kelly had a talent for math—and manipulation. She realized that gulls were worth more than trash, and that one gull was worth more than one fish. She began fishing for seagulls, using her own fish as bait and cashing in each time. The strategy was so effective that she eventually taught it to her kid.
Amazingly, Kelly isn't the only fishing cetacean. Captive orcas in San Diego and Ontario have independently figured it out, although they mostly just eat the birds.
To be fair, the seagulls started this one. In 2010, the Daily Mail reported that a colony of more than 90 gulls had taken over a British schoolyard. The birds were a special menace at lunchtime, dive-bombing the students and carrying off their sandwiches like feathered bullies. Not to be intimidated, the school administrators hired a squad of mercenaries: two Harris's hawks and a falcon. Hit-birds Jasper, Hope, and Monty began patrolling the skies above the school twice a day. Before long, they’d reclaimed the airspace, and sandwiches were safe again.
Two things set weasels apart from other animals. First, they will attack anything that moves. Second, because their metabolisms are so fast, they’re always, always hungry. The combination of these factors leads to some unbelievable fights. Even the tiniest weasels will launch themselves at animals 10 times their size—and sometimes, those animals have wings.
Weasels are well known for prowling among gull nests, snatching eggs and chicks where they can. And sometimes (frequently), they bite off a little more than they can chew. It’s not known who struck first in this video: it might have been the seagull. It could, just as easily, have been the weasel. SPOILER ALERT: The weasel loses this one. They may be tenacious, but they aren’t aquatic.
4. The Police
File it under "We’ll Probably Regret This Later For Some Reason": In 2012, Argentinean police were given orders to start shooting at seagulls. The gulls in question had begun attacking southern right whales. Each time the whales rose to breathe, the gulls swooped in and began pecking at their flesh, creating open wounds. The whales began curtailing their visits to the surface, rising just enough to breathe before diving again; their new swimming patterns were separating mothers from calves. Over 100 calves died that year, and the seagulls soon found themselves on the Most Wanted list. About 140 seagulls were killed in the initial cull, but it didn’t make much difference: As of 2013, the siege continued.
5. The Color Red
A few years ago, houses in the Scottish seaside town of Arbroath were plagued by seagulls. They perched on the rooftops and rummaged through garbage bins, creating a ruckus and a huge mess. One night, Ian Watson threw out the remains of his daughter’s birthday cake, sure the gulls would have their way with it—but they didn’t. They wouldn’t touch it.
The cake was frosted in bright red icing (Watson’s daughter is a Manchester United supporter), and he wondered if the vibrant color was somehow keeping the birds at bay. He began experimenting with birdfeeders and platforms in various hues. Bread crumbs left on black platforms vanished immediately. Food on the red feeders remained untouched. The experiment expanded, but the results were the same: seagulls avoided the color red. Watson’s findings impressed the town council, which decided to literally paint parts of the town red.
And then there was this science fair project by sixth-grader Sydney M. Kamerman, which found that seagulls "seemed frightened" by red towels, even those covered with food. Big Science has yet to weigh in on this one, but the initial findings seem pretty compelling.
6. and 7. Octopus and Tuna
Being a seabird is risky business. Sometimes you dive and you get a mouthful of whale. Other times, sea life gets a mouthful of you. Exhibit A: the octopus. On more than one occasion, people at the beach have witnessed an octopus wrestling and devouring a seagull. Several octopus species come into shallow water to feed, and can even walk on dry land. They’re nimble, clever, and can vanish into their surroundings. The bird—loud, brazen, and above all, curious—doesn’t stand a chance.
Exhibit B: the tuna. Seagulls like eating fish. So do Atlantic bluefin tuna. They can reach 12 feet long and weigh more than a ton, which makes them very attractive to sport fishermen. To attract their prey, the big fish hunters throw little fish into the water. Sometimes, the seagulls get to the bait first. Sometimes, as evidenced here, the tuna gets to the seagull first.