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7 Unlikely Seagull Enemies

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The seagull—scourge of the beach-blanket snacker, parking-lot pest—is nobody's favorite. Birding guides will tell you that seagulls have no natural enemies, which is mostly true. But once in a while, somebody’s had enough.

1. A Manipulative Dolphin

At Mississippi’s Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, dolphins are trained to help keep their own pools clean by bringing any litter they find to a trainer. For each piece of garbage a dolphin delivers, he or she gets a fish. One day, a seagull landed in Kelly the dolphin’s pool. She obediently brought it to her trainer, who rewarded her with extra fish.

If this was some other animal, the story might have ended there. But Kelly had a talent for math—and manipulation. She realized that gulls were worth more than trash, and that one gull was worth more than one fish. She began fishing for seagulls, using her own fish as bait and cashing in each time. The strategy was so effective that she eventually taught it to her kid.

Amazingly, Kelly isn't the only fishing cetacean. Captive orcas in San Diego and Ontario have independently figured it out, although they mostly just eat the birds. 

2. Schoolchildren

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To be fair, the seagulls started this one. In 2010, the Daily Mail reported that a colony of more than 90 gulls had taken over a British schoolyard. The birds were a special menace at lunchtime, dive-bombing the students and carrying off their sandwiches like feathered bullies. Not to be intimidated, the school administrators hired a squad of mercenaries: two Harris's hawks and a falcon. Hit-birds Jasper, Hope, and Monty began patrolling the skies above the school twice a day. Before long, they’d reclaimed the airspace, and sandwiches were safe again.

3. Weasels

Two things set weasels apart from other animals. First, they will attack anything that moves. Second, because their metabolisms are so fast, they’re always, always hungry. The combination of these factors leads to some unbelievable fights. Even the tiniest weasels will launch themselves at animals 10 times their size—and sometimes, those animals have wings.

Weasels are well known for prowling among gull nests, snatching eggs and chicks where they can. And sometimes (frequently), they bite off a little more than they can chew. It’s not known who struck first in this video: it might have been the seagull. It could, just as easily, have been the weasel. SPOILER ALERT: The weasel loses this one. They may be tenacious, but they aren’t aquatic. 

4. The Police

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File it under "We’ll Probably Regret This Later For Some Reason": In 2012, Argentinean police were given orders to start shooting at seagulls. The gulls in question had begun attacking southern right whales. Each time the whales rose to breathe, the gulls swooped in and began pecking at their flesh, creating open wounds. The whales began curtailing their visits to the surface, rising just enough to breathe before diving again; their new swimming patterns were separating mothers from calves. Over 100 calves died that year, and the seagulls soon found themselves on the Most Wanted list. About 140 seagulls were killed in the initial cull, but it didn’t make much difference: As of 2013, the siege continued

5. The Color Red

A few years ago, houses in the Scottish seaside town of Arbroath were plagued by seagulls. They perched on the rooftops and rummaged through garbage bins, creating a ruckus and a huge mess. One night, Ian Watson threw out the remains of his daughter’s birthday cake, sure the gulls would have their way with it—but they didn’t. They wouldn’t touch it.

The cake was frosted in bright red icing (Watson’s daughter is a Manchester United supporter), and he wondered if the vibrant color was somehow keeping the birds at bay. He began experimenting with birdfeeders and platforms in various hues. Bread crumbs left on black platforms vanished immediately. Food on the red feeders remained untouched. The experiment expanded, but the results were the same: seagulls avoided the color red. Watson’s findings impressed the town council, which decided to literally paint parts of the town red.

And then there was this science fair project by sixth-grader Sydney M. Kamerman, which found that seagulls "seemed frightened" by red towels, even those covered with food. Big Science has yet to weigh in on this one, but the initial findings seem pretty compelling. 

6. and 7. Octopus and Tuna

Being a seabird is risky business. Sometimes you dive and you get a mouthful of whale. Other times, sea life gets a mouthful of you. Exhibit A: the octopus. On more than one occasion, people at the beach have witnessed an octopus wrestling and devouring a seagull. Several octopus species come into shallow water to feed, and can even walk on dry land. They’re nimble, clever, and can vanish into their surroundings. The bird—loud, brazen, and above all, curious—doesn’t stand a chance.

Exhibit B: the tuna. Seagulls like eating fish. So do Atlantic bluefin tuna. They can reach 12 feet long and weigh more than a ton, which makes them very attractive to sport fishermen. To attract their prey, the big fish hunters throw little fish into the water. Sometimes, the seagulls get to the bait first. Sometimes, as evidenced here, the tuna gets to the seagull first. 

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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