Monday, 27 February 2012
26 Feb 2012 - Seagulls in WWI trained to spot submarines
I again watched an episode of 'QI' on ABC iView, it is fast becoming a source for much of my learning. Today I learnt that during World War I (WWI) many ideas were thrown around as to how to curb the problem of the German U-boats. Sonar had not yet been discovered to be an effective way to seek out submarines, and so it was up to the British Navy to devise different ways in which to alert ships to the presence of an enemy U-boat. One of these methods was to use seagulls. The idea was that they could train seagulls by covering their own submarine periscopes with food, so that when they put their periscopes out of the water, the seagulls would flock to get the food. The eventual view was that over a period of time seagulls would then learn that if a periscope of any kind popped out of the water it would contain food. Therefore whenever they saw seagulls flocking to an area, the navy would know that a German submarine was in the vicinity.
In the words of Baldric from Blackadder, it was a very 'cunning plan'! In similar vain to Baldric's cunning plans, there were a few "small" flaws with the plan. The main flaw was that seagulls, despite their name, are actually not sea birds at all, and should more accurately be named, 'gulls'. Seagulls are land birds, that although are often found around coastal areas, but never venture out of sight of land. Unfortunately for the plan, the majority of U-boats are found in the middle of the ocean, far from any land that might contain a gull or two. To be fair to the British navy, I don't believe this plan ever made it off paper and into trials, but that fact that is was considered at all, highlights how desperate they were to reduce the impact of the German U-boats.