It’s a familiar scene: you’re sitting at Opera Bar or Opera Kitchen enjoying a plate of chips with your beer and view. And then, without warning, a jerk of a seagull swoops in and swipes a fry. It might even knock over your drink.
The Opera House feels your pain and has come up with a creative plan to protect your chippies: seagull patrol dogs.
The initiative, which sees on-duty pups protect your food from the scourge of the sky, has been trialled to great success since 2018, after a similar idea was implemented at the Australian Maritime Museum. The Opera House enlisted the help of dog-walking service Mad Dogs and Englishmen to supply dogs and handlers to keep the ’gulls at bay. And in December 2021, the initiative was made permanent for four years.
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Owner James Webb started off using his dog Muffin, before realising one pup wasn’t enough to cover the whole area. So, he brought on his other dog, Tauzer.
“They were excited about chasing seagulls,” he told Broadsheet. “A lot of other dogs will only chase what’s in front of them, but my dogs will chase seagulls in the sky for hours. We don’t train them; they’re doing what they love and getting rewarded for it.”
Webb says the seagulls have learnt that if they come near the tables they’ll be forced to fly away.
Since the canines have been on guard, Opera Bar has reported an 80 per cent reduction in meal replacements, while Opera Kitchen has recorded far fewer glass breakages.
The venue tried everything to stop the beaked predators: cloches over food, wooden boxes with perspex lids, sonic deterrents and a robotic hawk. But still the seagulls persisted. There were broken glasses galore and waitstaff were afraid to leave the kitchen with food, for fear a cunning bird would swoop in and take it.
The presence of the pooches seems to keep the birds flying over the water. If one does come too close the pups scare them off with a bark.
This article was updated on December 6, 2021.