A sunset cruise sounds lovely, doesn’t it? I pictured an open top deck atop a huge boat, flowing champagne and a spectacular sunset. My ideas of grandeur ran away with me again. As my family and I began to board the medium size boat I noticed the top was covered and the seats were rows of concrete benches. Okay, so I knew it wouldn’t be a mingling type of cocktail hour but I waited patiently for all of the passengers to take their seats. Coming from a landlocked state, I was pleased just to be on the water.
This was our last night on a seven day stay in Panama City Beach, Florida (also known as The Redneck Riviera). I hadn’t found this nickname entirely accurate. Though there were hordes of chain restaurants, fried food and people using the back of their pickup trucks as pools. The beaches were immaculate white sand, the water neared bath temperature, people were friendly and we saw heaps of dolphins. Magical.
I took my seat next to my husband, our daughters next to us and his family sat behind us. We set off on our adventure, overdressed yet excited for what was to come. Seagulls began drafting on the sides of the boat. It was nice to see them playing in the wind and enjoying the trip with us.
The Captain’s voice projected from the intercom. “Don’t mind the seagulls. They have been trained to latch on to the boats because people feed them.”
I thought, how horrible. Feeding the wildlife is a huge no-no, especially human food. It lacks any nutritional value and can often be more harmful than helpful to said creatures. I should mention, I’m from Denver and we are big into wildlife and safety of animals here. Plus, I’m a dork.
The voice buzzing from above continued, “The seagulls especially love Cheetos,” I nearly gasped at how horrifying it was that people would feed these birds something so toxic. I anticipated the Captain to then go on to say how detrimental these foods are and not to feed them. Alas, he continued, “We will be bringing around a big container full of Cheetos so everyone will have the opportunity to feed them. They will pick them right out of your hand and if you throw one they will dive down to catch it.”
I looked over to my husband in disbelief, he shrugged his shoulders. I had already taken issue with people finding and taking sand dollars, starfish and seahorses home. They are alive. I’m not a total tree hugger…But, I don’t think it is right to take something out of its habitat and kill it, just so it can be thrown away when you get home because it stinks to high hell. Okay, I’m off my soapbox.
Greedy hands (kids and adults) swarmed the container of Cheetos. You would have thought we uncovered a lost treasure. Over a hundred seagulls now swarmed around us as people laughed and threw their Cheetos. I sat in a state of shock. I wondered how many times a day the boat runs and how often they feed the birds. The answer is, A LOT.
Our oldest daughter thankfully had no interest in feeding the birds. She tends to stay away from just about anything that can fly, even butterflies. Our youngest daughter though, ever the thrill seeker, wanted to. I didn’t want her to think it was okay, but I also didn’t want to rob her of this experience. I gave her my little spiel about not feeding wildlife to which she shook her head. She had already heard this before. She fed the seagulls. Her giggles and squeals filled my ears as the birds swept down with expert precision and nipped the crunchy, orange toxin from her little fingers. It was fun to watch her relish in the experience as only a child can.
I suppose I gave in. I recounted this story to a couple of friends who were equally surprised. I thought about writing a letter to the company, asking them to at least use food that carries some sort of nutritional value for the birds. Like I said, I’m a nerd.
How would you have handled this situation? Would you have let her feed the birds? Would you have even thought twice about it?