The research department of Exeter University has finally solved the greatest problem of our time – how to stop seagulls from stealing our chips.
It may be winter, but Australia’s premier food larcenist, the Seagull, continues its singular pursuit unabated. With hurried feet, flapp’d wing and an unblinking eye, they covet your overpriced beachside fare.
However, the scientific minds of Britain have finally found a way to outfox the avian beggars – stare at them.
“Interactions between humans and wildlife often have detrimental impacts on a wide variety of taxa, and human-wildlife conflict is a major cause of species declines and limited success of conservation efforts,” wrote the researchers in their paper.
“Intervention tends to focus on reducing negative effects on humans through managing wildlife populations. However, wildlife management is often ineffective It is increasingly being recognised that, rather than solely imposing controls on wildlife, changes in human behaviour could alleviate these conflicts while also benefiting conservation efforts.”
Researchers at the University of Exeter packed their togs and set out to discover if gull thievery could be affected by the behaviour of their targets (read: us).
Proving that you can’t beat university education, to “measure the human-gull conflict relationship” they tempted the birds over with a $2 bag of hot chips. Placing the bag next to a researcher, they timed the approach of the gull noting whether the researcher was staring at the gull, or not.
Per Science alert, “when the researcher was looking away, all 19 of the gulls touched the bag of fries. But when the researcher was looking at the gull, they either took longer to touch the bag – 21 seconds longer, on average – or did not touch it at all.”
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“This demonstrates that gulls use behavioural cues from humans when making foraging decisions in urban environments, and that they find human gaze aversive,” the researchers wrote.
“If human gaze aversion is a learned response, those individuals that have been chased away from food by humans may learn to associate human eye contact with potential danger. Alternatively, gaze aversion may be present upon hatching, with gulls being able to generalise the salient features of a vertebrate eye.”
The researchers are not entirely sure why the gulls don’t like being watched, but one can readily assume that they don’t like an audience when they’re eating. That, or they fear we’ll eat them. The researchers close off the research with some advice, “It seems that just watching the gulls will reduce the chance of them snatching your food.”
Thank you, Exeter University.