Don’t underestimate nature’s ability to completely horrify you. Researchers report a behavior they’ve never seen in the animal world before: seagulls eating the eyeballs of baby seals. Yes you read that correctly – seagulls are the absolute worst.
The rather distressing findings are detailed in a study published in the African Journal of Marine Science. Along the coast of Namibia there have been around 500 cases in the last 15 years where seagulls have attacked baby Cape fur seals and tried to eat their eyeballs. Researchers attribute this to “behavioral plasticity,” where animals are able to adjust or modify a particular behavior in response to a change in the environment, and it is suggested that an increase in seal numbers may have brought about this grim hunting strategy.
When it comes to eating, Seagulls aren’t that picky and are regarded as “feeding generalists.” The study notes that seagulls have been known to scavenge on the remains of Cape fur seals after they’ve been attacked by a white shark, and to eat flesh from the open wounds of injured survivors.
Researchers told National Geographic that seagulls target the eyeballs of baby seals because, once blinded, they become more vulnerable to further attacks. These attacks usually occurred when the mother seals went to hunt fish, leaving the baby seals alone and unprotected.
Of the attacks observed, 50% were “successful” resulting in an eyeball being plucked out. Other seagulls were regularly observed joining in on an attack, which led to the death of the seal. Seagulls usually focused their attacks on soft and exposed regions, such as the underbelly and the anus. I told you seagulls are assholes.
Though researchers describe it as a smart hunting tactic, lead author Austin Gallagher told National Geographic that “It is not a pleasant behavior to observe, as the seals completely freak out and make a lot of noise.”
Researchers hope behavior like this, however horrifying, could provide further information on future ecological changes and provide insights into the changing relationships between prey and predator. “Owing to their often variable diets and ability to connect marine and terrestrial habitats over long distances, seabirds such as kelp gulls can be used as 'moving laboratories' for understanding the effects of human pressures such as climate change and overfishing,” researchers note in the study.