Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Ivories in art through the ages

As December rolls over us, there's been one rarity that's made a gleaming white impression on the newsfeeds of internet scrollers and on the retinas of those lucky enough to see them. Yes, Ivory Gulls

These Northern exiles, carved by Larius, the angel with a penchant for gulling, seem to soil their reputation somewhat with their food choice. Seeing one tucking in amid a mass of rotting cetacean or seal doesn't really appear to do justice to their persil white plumage, delicate blue bills and soft black eyes. Ferrero Rocher and rainbows seem a more suitable diet. However, it lends them to sticking around, which pleases cold-fingered birders, and also means they're getting a square (if somewhat putrid) meal, pleasing to see with a rarity off course. 

This got me thinking, in Britain's (not to mention much of the rest of the world) heydey of routine marine mammal slaughter, were Ivory Gulls attracted? How many English whaling ships were graced by these pearly beauties, drawn by the incessant need for man to have lamp fuel, soap and corsets? How many East Coast fish markets had a gleaming gull slurping down entrails like spaghetti?

With tongue so far in cheek it almost came out my ear, I investigated this by searching the artwork depicting ancient whaling and beaching, and turned up trumps. I wonder if these could count towards rarity records? BBRC, hello?

Ivories in pop culture: A gallery
Beached whale engraving, made by Jan Saenredam in 1602. Are the people flocking for the Sperm Whale or the Ivorys frolicking around it?

Native American art shows hunters pursuing a dolphin. Themselves pursued by a Ivory...

'Cagelot of Potwalvis' 
by Cornelis van Noorde, 1764.
Wow, the birds can even be aged. Nice job Cornelius!

Sam McDowells painting of the whale hunt in the West Indies. I presume this was painted as a 'recordshot' of the 3 gulls. Nice find Sam!

Engraving of a juvenile Ivory in Arctic North America, Right Whale seems to have 'engravingbombed'; a shame.
(on a serious note, the barbaric kind of actions seen in some of these ancient pictures still occurs in some 'developed' nations today. For more information visit:
-Jonnie Fisk
Jonnie is an 18 year-old Yorkshire-based birder, invertebrate enthusiast and frustrated artist. When not being oblivious to every local rarity, he enjoys autumn vis-mig and being distracted by bugs.


  1. Great selection of art. Clearly a close relationship between bird and food that is more than just scavenging, and recognised by generations. I wonder whether people used to follow Ivory Gulls to find carcasses, like birders now follow carcasses to find Ivories?

  2. an Ivory in the West Indies! astonishing, though perfectly plausible if they did used to follow old whaling ships around