During World War I, the British Army attempted to train seagulls to poo on the periscopes of enemy submarines.
The submarine was one of the most feared weapons deployed in World War I.
Over the course of the war, these silent prowlers sank almost 5,000 ships, sending 15,000 sailors to watery graves. Scientists and navy men worked desperately to come up with a way to detect enemy subs.
One such scheme emerged from the British Board of Invention and Research in 1915. It involved feeding wild gulls from a dummy periscope, in the hope that the birds would come to associate submarines with a free meal. The sight of a wheeling, whirling flock of gulls would warn ships of a U-boat lurking nearby.
It didn't work, though one admiral tried to salvage the effort by suggesting that the gulls be taught to defecate on the periscopes, thus blinding the submarine crews.
When the US entered the war in 1917, the ornithologist R.M. Strong proposed resurrecting the British plan, this time with hand-raised birds from colonies on Lake Michigan. But fortunately for all parties, sonar research was making great headway, and the Herring Gulls of the world were left in peace.