Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Tools of the Trade: Seabird Messengers
An example of this was written about by Lieutenant Vaillant who was aboard HMS Ganges off Gibraltar in 1784 with a small squadron of other ships. He writes of the use of wild birds for signaling in this excerpt from his memoires:
The four vessels sailed in company; without losing sight of each other: and we even visited one another, when the weather was calm, and we could hoist out our boats. When this kind of intercourse was rendered impracticable by high winds and too stormy sea, we had recourse to another, that of mutually writing letters, of which the gulls and terns were carriers. These birds, beaten by the winds, and tired with their flight, would pitch upon our yards to rest themselves, where the sailors easily caught them. Having fastened our little epistles to their legs, we then let them fly: and, making a noise to prevent their alighting again on the vessel, obliged them to wing their course to the next. There they were caught again by the crew, and sent back to us in the same manner with answers to our letters.
Though this was certainly not a standard or even habitual way of getting information from one ship to another, it is an ingenious one. Although it is worth pointing out that it was a difficult service for the birds, no doubt.
Header: HMS Ganges (1856) via royalengineers.ca