Letter to a seabird





blue humanities, animal studies, australasian gannet, multispecies entanglement, surfing, affective encounters, Brian Nelson, COVID-19, intertidal zone


In May 2020, when I should have been experiencing spring in Scotland, I was instead living in Queensland, surfing the point breaks of the southern Gold Coast as the autumn swells rolled in. It was there that I noticed a bird I had never seen before and didn’t know how to identify. Over coming weeks and months, I would watch this bird and others like it dive for fish from a great height, mesmerised. I wanted to know more. In my strange/letter, addressed to the birds, I track my attempts to identify and understand them via close observation and research, a process that led me back to Scotland through Bryan Nelson’s monograph, The Gannet (1978). I trace the way in which I began to feel a sense of kinship with this animal, while also interrogating the limits of that kinship, amid a backdrop of border closures and uncertainty that was the strange southern winter of 2020.

Author Biography

Melissa Jane Fagan, University of Aberdeen/Curtin University

Melissa Fagan is an Australian writer, surfer and PhD scholar within the Aberdeen-Curtin Alliance program. Her short fiction and nonfiction have won awards and been widely published in Australian literary journals. Her memoir What Will Be Worn (Transit Lounge, 2018) explores themes of emotional and material inheritance across five generations of women. Her PhD project, a collection of critical travel essays, seeks to position surfing and other forms of immersion in the intertidal zone as ways of seeing, experiencing, and bearing witness to coastal environments and cultures.