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Feeding sea gulls not just reckless, but potentially costly in Rehoboth; commissioners consider fine | COMMENTARY

A seagull steals chips from a restaurant table in Sydney, Australia. The gulls have become aggressive toward diners at harbourside restaurants and beaches, with diners complaining that the birds snatch food off of their plates while they are eating.
A seagull steals chips from a restaurant table in Sydney, Australia. The gulls have become aggressive toward diners at harbourside restaurants and beaches, with diners complaining that the birds snatch food off of their plates while they are eating.(PETER PARKS / AFP/Getty Images)

This weekend’s unseasonably warm weather turned our thoughts toward summertime and the beach — specifically new beach rules and regulations, by far our favorite kind of lawmaking.

Usually, we focus on Ocean City, Maryland’s, initiatives; there have been some doozies. Like when council members there passed an “emergency” ordinance to ban women from baring breasts on the beach, concerned the topless tatas would offend families. Or when the town tried to unconstitutionally limit when and where street performers could entertain for earnings. And who can forget the “No profanity, please” signs posted in 2014 to get beachgoers to cut down on cursing? The prim proposal was never put into law, likely because lawmakers knew it wouldn’t pass the First Amendment test, even if we all actually want it put into practice.

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But this week, we’re looking further north, to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, home of 2017’s controversial “no tents or shading devices (other than umbrellas and baby shelters)” ordinance. The Board of Commissioners for the popular vacation destination is set to vote as early as Friday on amendments to Chapter 88 of the Municipal Code of the City of Rehoboth Beach, also known as the animal chapter.

Among the recommendations is a revision that would ban livestock from living within city limits, which is fine with us. We never really got the goat yoga craze or those backyard chicken coops that urban faux farmers so loved (until they didn’t, dumping roosters and hens past their egg-laying prime at shelters by the thousands).

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Rehoboth commissioners are also looking to shorten pet leashes to a maximum of six feet (from eight) and to make it illegal — and expensive — to not scoop your dog’s poop: punishable by a $250 fine. That seems a bit steep, but it’s a bargain compared to Washington, D.C., where fines can run as high as $2,000.

But we digress. The proposal we’re most abuzz about is this one: Those caught feeding — or causing or permitting to be fed — sea gulls will face a fine of between $5 and $50 for a first offense, and up to $200 for subsequent offenses.

Hallelujah.

Not only are Thrashers fries detrimental to the birds’ health (and, let’s face it, yours), feeding them to gulls only emboldens them to seek more food — often aggressively, grabbing it right from a person’s fingers.

Just look what’s happened in the U.K., where thousands of people report sea gull attacks each week. Sea gulls snatched a chihuahua from a woman’s yard over the summer and held an elderly couple hostage in their home for six days, flying at them each time they went outside.

“It might sound ridiculous, but I believe it won’t be long before a baby becomes the next victim of Britain’s increasingly aggressive seagulls,” Worcester City Council Member Alan Amos told the U.K. Sun newspaper.

In August, Jersey Shore officials dealt with the problem by hiring trained raptors — four hawks, two falcons and an owl — at a cost of $2,100 a day to scare off aggressive gulls attacking visitors along the boardwalk’s food stalls. The effort apparently worked well enough for the city to extend the hours the raptors were on patrol, but this hardly seems like a long-term solution.

Nor is the animal cruelty approach embraced by some. In 2016, for example, a Canadian dad reportedly encouraged his teen daughter to bait the birds in Rehoboth, then bash their brains in with a shovel. And just this month, someone in Maryland apparently dumped a Dollar Tree bag of popped popcorn into a Laurel parking lot one morning to lure the birds, then run them over with a car, killing 10.

We don’t wish death on the sky rats, just a little decorum.

Ultimately, it may be that there’s just not much that can be done to keep the gulls from foraging for food on the beach, when there’s so much of it around, from boardwalk offerings to packed picnics and ever-present toddler snacks.

But the least we can do is hold accountable the people who encourage the bad behavior. That means no more tossing of bread crumbs or posing for selfies while wagging treats in the air — for anyone: Seals, turtles and waterfowl are included in the proposal.

For the birds who are already emboldened by reckless feeding, here’s something you could try to save yourself in the future: A new University of Exeter study suggests that staring at gulls might make them less likely to approach.

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Let us know how it goes.

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