Illustration by Nanda Ormond.

The Short History Of The Seagull

“Give back our chips!”

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In Australia, the term “seagull” actually refers to the Silver Gull. A byword for unconstrained greed, their un-hinging jaws allow them to eat objects bigger than their own heads. The scientific name Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae comes from Greek, meaning “Australian bird capable of eating objects larger than its own head”. They were already here when Europeans turned up. It is not known how they survived before fried food and litter.

Seagulls are very common. They are now thought to be nearly as numerous as baristas, although research indicates they are more widely liked. Despite their prevalence, seagulls have made only two appearances in the history of human culture: the first was Chekov’s eponymous play, often quoted by pretentious undergrads (to extract yourself from any such conversation it is only necessary to say “He stole it – it’s just Hamlet for Russians”). The second was David Williamson’s play The Club, in which star recruit Geoff Hayward likes to play footy stoned, with this result: “Five minutes after you smoke it your head lifts right off your shoulders. I wasn’t looking out into the crowd, incidentally, I was watching a seagull. Not just an ordinary seagull. It was the prince of seagulls, dazzling me with blasts of pure white every time its wings caught the sun.”

Because of the quite serious issue of gulls being struck by balls or trampled underfoot, major arenas have tried using birds of prey to frighten them off – finally, a commercial application for the very cool hobby of falconry.

Seagulls are synonymous with the beach, but have never been accorded the sea-faring cred of the albatross or the petrel. They have about as much open-ocean gravitas as an inflatable dinghy.

From a distance, roosting gulls on the low tide rocks look remarkably like sesame seeds on a Japanese gyudon. As a result, it is possible to become very hungry through staring at them for too long while surfing. Sometimes a gull will lose a leg to a pelagic fish while sitting on the ocean’s surface. Sometimes they will fake this injury to garner sympathy. They are nothing if not adaptable.

Their sound is the sound of summer, the discordant music to our transition from carpark to sea, as they bicker and scrap over chips thrown from car windows. If ever you meet someone who can convincingly imitate a seagull’s scrrraw! shout them a wave. It’s a very difficult thing to do.

No-one has ever seen a baby seagull. Although the Wikipedia entry on Silver Gulls claims to show a photograph of juveniles, this only proves you should never do your research on Wikipedia.

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Jock Serong