“Petrels Can Walk on the Waves of the Ocean”-an article from the Vancouver Province, July 10, 1927

“He is a little bit of a fellow, only about six inches long, but with very long wings and long legs, which make him appear much larger than he really is. The back and wings are sooty black, shading to greyish brown underneath, while the base of the tail is pure white.

His legs, feet and bill are as black as ink, but the web that joins the toes is bright yellow. He not only makes his home on the restless bosom of the ocean, but he insists on staying far from any land – usually hundreds of miles far out at sea.

The passengers of ocean vessels would find it very lonesome if flocks of petrels did not keep them company, silently flitting here and there over the waves like wind-tossed butterflies, or like the seagulls we know so well off our coast of British Columbia. Numbers of them follow the vessel day after day in her voyage across the ocean, and feed greedily on the scraps thrown overboard from the ship’s galley.

Though the big steamer may be ploughing through the waves at full speed, the petrels do not only keep up without any seeming exertion, but dart far ahead and then come swinging back, and actually seem to be playing hind-and-seek from one side of the ship to the other.

Even when there is no wind, they can walk or stand on the water, just by moving their wings a little faster. By the time dusk comes, and the sun has taken its nightly dip in the west, the petrels that have been playing around the rapidly moving ship all day, seem to be a little tired, and settle down on the water for their night’s rest, and with heads tucked under wings are soon fast asleep, literally rocked to rest in the cradle of the deep.

Sailors call the petrels Mother Carey’s chickens, and they have a superstition that if any one on board injures or kills one of them that some disaster is sure to happen to the vessel, so they are never harmed, if the sailors can prevent it. *

When unusual numbers of petrels are seen, it is thought to be a sign that the weather is going to be stormy. But the rougher the weather, and the higher the waves, and the more water swirls and foams, the happier the petrels seem.”

* Apparently Arthur Conan Doyle was unaware of this superstition, or simply chose to ignore it, because he wrote in “Dangerous Work: An Arctic Adventure”: “Amused myself in the afternoon by catching petrels by flinging a lead over the heads of them, and warping the string round their wings,
something like the South American ‘bolas’.”

Perhaps not too colourful, petrels are fun, full of energy, love food and can do amazing things!

submitted by
Fran Martin