Monday, July 8, 2013

A warning just in time for beach season

In my last post I linked to helpful advice about how to survive a bear attack. There was also a blog post last week at Smithsonian on how to survive a lion attack.

But as usual, people have been worrying about the wrong animals. Not many of us live where encountering bears or lions is routine. And not many think to be concerned about a much more common creature, the sea gull. Annoying, sure, but not dangerous, right? But think again, says this article from The Guardian on How to survive a seagull attack.
It's no joke, being attacked by a seagull. Pensioners have been hospitalised, blood gushing from cut heads. Others have been knocked to the ground, breaking bones. Small dogs have bled to death, children's lips been sliced open, and an elderly man died of a heart attack following a particularly vicious assault in his back garden. News that the Royal Mail has temporarily halted deliveries to an otherwise peaceful Cornish cul-de-sac because of the danger should come as no big surprise; it's happened before.
A diving herring gull is a missile: special attack talon on the heel, razor-sharp two-inch beak, 1.4-metre wingspan, more than a kilo of angry bird travelling at 65kph. No wonder there's blood.
In fact, not only can seagulls injure and kill people and small dogs, but they're apparently capable of killing much larger animals as well: scientists believe they're killing baby whales off the coast of Argentina,  dive-bombing them, slicing open their backs, and feasting on their blubber. The babies are easy targets because they have to surface more often to breathe.

Now that it's the season to head for the beach, many people who aren't used to dealing with these winged monsters are likely to be attacked. So heed this useful advice:
If you get too close, they will use a variety of tactics to try to drive you away.
First comes the "gag call" – a low, repeated warning call that essentially means: Go away. Next is the low pass, within a metre or two of the intruder's head. Then aerial operations commence. Phase one is bombardment: gulls target the perceived threat with droppings and vomit. Phase two is all-out attack – usually a low, raking strike to the back of the head with talons extended.
Once things get to this stage, obviously, there's not a lot you can do beyond duck and try shield your head. Best advice? Keep your eyes and ears open, and learn what the gulls are trying to tell you. Our ignorance of their warnings is their greatest weapon.

More useful advice from Flickr user oh simone.

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