In the past week the UK national media have run over 150 news stories and comment pieces about seagulls.
The seagull has well and truly unseated the false widow spider of recent years to be the media's scare story of choice for the summer. To put the numbers into some perspective, at peak hysteria the false widow spider only generated 54 pieces of national coverage in its busiest week.
The Times, downplaying the media's role in whipping up seagull-related hysteria, has taken pause to ponder the nature of this "primeval dread", suspecting it might be innate in our psyches:
"Somewhere, deep down, we fear nature’s revenge. That fear discharges, irrationally, because it’s there and we’ll never get rid of it. Seagulls are not, commonsense informs us, a real risk to mankind but this year we fear them."
Others have been less thoughtful in their coverage:
The Daily Star, a long-time fan of animal scare stories, leads the way in reporting the "seagull terror" from above with stories of "seagulls waging war on mutant rats" to claims that "vicious seagulls will attack and kill babies".
It should be stressed no babies have been killed. In fact, the reality to date has often been a lot less shocking. While the Daily Mail and others did report that a pensioner and a four-year-old boy both needed medical attention after being pecked by the "seagull menace" and a couple of pets have been killed, the Star also informs us that a family was "forced to flee a guest house when a plague of noisy seagulls kept them awake all night". That may have been frustrating but it doesn't feel like a national news story.
In the main the victims have reportedly been ice creams, pasties and sausage rolls but that hasn't discouraged the media from setting about the story like a flock of hungry seagulls mobbing a discarded chip packet.
It is a situation which has even brought journalists into direct contact with the "bloodthirsty", "terror-inducing" menaces. The Telegraph reported a "particularly sadistic" seagull attacked one of its journalists and a photographer as they left an ice cream shop in Brighton.