A young ring-billed gull with a Northern Lined Seahorse in its bill
Written By Joe Reynolds
New York Harbor Nature Blog
Thanksgiving is a time to be with family and cherished friends, to eat great food and treasure all the things you should be thankful for. But sometimes it’s not always easy to come up with things to be thankful for in any given year? May I offer a suggestion?
Be thankful you’re not food for a hungry gull. The other day while walking along an Atlantic Ocean beach in New Jersey I spotted a juvenile Ring-billed gull trying to eat a Northern lined seahorse. Trust me, it wasn’t pretty.
Seahorses are considered bony fishes. They have bodies protected by strong external plates, which are arranged into a series of "rings." These rings help to protect the outer body of the fish. Unfortunately these plates did not work to protect this poor little seahorse.
The bony plates functioned only to cause frustration for the gull. The hungry bird wanted to eat quickly. So it started thrashing the lifeless seahorse back and forth on rocks. Finally the gull was able to soften or tenderize the external plates and get to the meat of the fish. A quick meal no doubt.
Typically, seahorses are not the favorite prey for gulls. Seahorses are usually small fish with not much meat. Their bodies are also able to change color based on their environment, a type of camouflage that generally makes the fish too difficult for a hungry gull to forage and find. Gulls usually prefer easier food items to catch and consume, such as clams, crabs, large schools of fish, dead fish, or garbage.
In this case, I am thinking this particular seahorse was in the wrong place, at the wrong time. It got a little too close to shore and caught up in a feeding frenzy among gulls over a fleeting school of fish. One thing led to another and a young predatory gull discovered a slow-moving seahorse. A potential meal.
Like most gulls, ring-billed gulls are an opportunist. It will catch fish and other small prey, including at times a bony little seahorse to feed.
Gulls are splendid seaside birds with a remarkable ability to search for food. Author Marlin Bree in her book, Amazing Gulls: Acrobats of the Sky and Sea, tells us that gulls have become perfectly adapted to living a life of a scavenger. They have highly developed vision that can help them see two to three times better than a human. A gull’s neck is very flexible, so much so that it can turn its head to look in many directions. What’s more gulls have a long bill curved like a hook for preying into shells or for quickly catching a fish.
Gulls are also very curious and inquisitive birds. For this young ring-billed gull being interested in a strange looking fish worked. It had a meal all to itself.
An adult Northern Lined Seahorse swimming inside an aquarium in The Wetlands Institute in South Jersey.
But don’t be angry at the gull. It was just doing what it had to do to survive living near the wild ocean. Instead be annoyed at people. Every year far more people kill seahorses globally than do any other animal. Habitat degradation along a shoreline and over-fishing are two major causes of seahorse population decline. But also the high demand for seahorses as ingredients in traditional medicines, for display in aquariums, and as parts for jewelry or sold dried as souvenirs far exceeds the amount of seahorses eaten each year by natural predators. Because of human threats such as these, many species of seahorse are close to becoming an endangered species.
Please help seahorses survive. To learn more check out Project Seahorse - http://www.projectseahorse.org/seahorses/
STOP THE WILLIAMS FRACKED GAS PIPELINE THROUGH NY HARBOR!
MY TOP 5 FAVORITE BOOKS ABOUT NY HARBOR
1. Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City by Leslie Day
2.Heartbeats in the Muck by John Waldman
3. The Fisheries of Raritan Bay by Clyde L. MacKenzie Jr.
4. Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan by Phillip Lopate
5. The Bottom of the Harbor by Joseph Mitchell