Feed­ing frenzy

Focus-Science and Technology - - Eye Opener - PHOTO: RICHARD SHUCKSMITH/NPL

For gan­nets, din­ner can quickly turn into a fierce bat­tle. These du­elling seabirds brave the tur­bu­lent wa­ters of the North Sea to dive for mack­erel thrown over­board by the pho­tog­ra­pher. They need to be fast: once the food source be­comes widely known, it’s ev­ery gan­net for it­self.

“Gan­nets are masters of flight, but they’re also ef­fi­cient hunters be­low the water,” says Dr Ewan Wake­field, a bi­ol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Glas­gow. “They have eyes which func­tion well above and be­low water, and bod­ies pro­tected by air sacs which can com­press on im­pact with water, al­low­ing them to plunge dive into the sea.

“Gan­nets from dif­fer­ent colonies tend to for­age in mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive ar­eas,” he con­tin­ues. “If a bird has flown a smaller dis­tance, it’s go­ing to be in bet­ter con­di­tion than a bird from a more dis­tant colony.” .

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