Human beings are unquestionably the worst offender when it comes to destroying the planet, but now California seagulls have gotten in on the action by eating fast food and messing up the protected Channel Islands. You can’t blame them. In-N-Out is delicious. Even if you prefer Five Guys or Shake Shack, you have to admit that cheeseburger crumbs taste better than the raw barnacles and anchovies these gulls once lived on. If the gulls lived closer to Shake Shack, they’d eat there, too. As Deborah Netburn writes in her new Los Angeles Times article, “[W]hen it comes to people food, they are willing to try just about anything.” Netburn follows ecologist Ana Sofia Guerra who studies the gulls’ eating habits to understand how their industrialized diet is shaping their island habitat. You thought homo sapiens are slovenly? Picture a gull throwing up a corndog, stick and all. Guerra watched that.
She’s tracked sea gulls on ventures from their pristine island home to an In-N-Out in El Segundo, a catering kitchen in Compton and the Roadium Open Air Market in Torrance.
On one trip, a bird she monitored flew to a row of Vietnamese restaurants in Anaheim, then visited a bakery a few blocks away for dessert.
These are amusing images, because animals doing human things and wearing human clothes are hilarious. Unfortunately, the gulls’ modern American diet is affecting the Islands’ animals, plants, and soil chemistry, but scientists are trying to understand exactly how. Their seafood-filled poop and vomit once helped nourish the Channel Islands, so their new people food diet is surely shaping it, too.
Seabirds, and their poop, play an important role in island ecosystems by moving nutrients from the mainland and the ocean to the island shores, said Young, who is advising Guerra on her research. It stands to reason that the gulls’ penchant for human junk food could ripple throughout the food chain.
“Based on what we know from other systems, this might have large-scale transformative impacts,” Young said.