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, is being trialled during January 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.
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 now has six dogs on the job, and after two weeks he 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 seagulls have been our biggest nightmare,” Opera Kitchen’s general manager Trevelyan Bale told Broadsheet. “We always had great reviews: great food, great drinks, great service, but hate the seagulls. It was a deterrent to coming here.”
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 dogs guard the venue from 12pm to 4pm each day and their presence seems to keep the birds flying over the water. If one does come too close the pups scare them off with a bark.
“People coming now don’t even know how it used to be,” Bale says. “The staff love it, people can sit on the wall and eat without being swooped.
“Patrons like them, too. They ask why they’re there, and when we tell them they seem to think it’s good we’re doing something about the seagulls. Opera Kitchen is a different place when the dogs are here.”