Most Norwegians know the song Jeg hater måker (I hate seagulls) by Odd Børretzen, which has become a modern classic here in Norway. I suspect quite a few people in my hometown have been humming this song on the quayside this summer. In this area there are pubs and restaurants next to each other like on a conveyor belt, with serving outside as well as inside.
The gulls have always been a symbol for something important in Haugesund. My hometown was built on the herring industry, and the symbiosis that existed between fishermen and seagulls is gone today. We taught the birds to eat our waste, but this coexistence doesn’t fit us anymore. However, we have given the gulls a central place in our modern, simplified coat of arms. It actually consists solely of three seagulls, but they don’t really fit into a modern city.
I have previously used the phrase “the tipping point”, taken from a BBC series. In this they investigated different habitats to see if we if we are approaching a measurable point where it is no longer possible to reverse the trend in relation to climate change. Maybe the hated gulls are a kind of tipping point for us?
The gulls have changed their behavior this summer. They have flown in under the blinds at the quayside pubs and cafes and actually ripped the food out of the hands of shocked guests. This enrages people, but it is worth thinking over what is going on. Why are seagulls so desperate that they take such risks? It is because they are hungry. The local TV station interviewed a local authority on birds and he said that the gulls have actually stopped laying eggs. They know they won’t be able to feed the offspring. This is because their other resources for food are gone, like the waste the fisheman used to leave in the sea and the junkyard.
But this is not just about food shortages. It’s also about old human behavior. The abbreviation PBT is used in relation to environmental pollutants. P stands for persistent or resistance to decay. B stands for bioaccumulative and used for the ability to accumulate in living creatures. T stands for toxic.
In addition, there are some pollutants called endocrine disrupters. It may not seem to us that they are dangerous, because they do not last long and do not accumulate in the body. However, the effects can be severe and long-lasting, and hormonal disorders can show up in children of the gulls that were exposed to the toxins. It’s no wonder gulls change behavior, we do too. We are being exposed right along with the gulls and these drugs are changing our DNA, and how DNA works. There is a lot of research on neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, ADD, ADHD and learning disabilities. The reason that there is a large increase in these diagnoses may be just pollutants.
Many of the drugs we are talking about were released 30-40 years ago. We still use poison, so we will probably see the effects for a long time, even if we were to cut out all emissions today.
According to the organization Friends of the Earth the most risky toxins include PCBs, brominated flame retardants and chlorinated paraffins because they have the longest half-life in the environment. Brominated flame retardants for example have been found in house dust, but these drugs are probably found in greater amounts in streams, rivers, lakes and fjords. I do not know the whole route these toxins take to get from our waste sites to living organisms, but there is no doubt that sooner or later they end up in our food. This makes gulls sick and it makes us sick. The evidence might be more evident in the gulls, but we’ll see it more pronounced in humans eventually (to be honest I really think it is clear enough already). It is perhaps a warning when seagulls change behavior?
We should perhaps give this some thought as we enjoy the luxury of the inner quay where we eat and drink well while we pick up our mobile/ipad/ipod etc. We don’t need to resort to desperate actions like our friends in the coat of arms.
We have considerably simpler life, but that doesn’t come without a prize.