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Northern Gannets Plunge-Dive

High-speed dives clock in at 60 mph!
© Kent McFarland View Large

Just off the North Atlantic coast, hungry Northern Gannets are gathering to feed on fish. From 100 feet in the air, the gannets plummet head-first into the water at 60 miles per hour! Such high-speed collisions would knock most creatures out. But Gannets have evolved air sacs in both the neck and shoulders that cushion the impact, and their skulls are specially reinforced. When they’re on the hunt, gannets draw droves of tourists to places like St. Bonaventure Island in Quebec, where more than 100,000 gannets nest during summer.

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Transcript: 

BirdNote® 
Northern Gannets Plunge-Dive
Written by Bob Sundstrom

This is BirdNote.

[Northern Gannets calling: http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/1993 1.06-.10]

Just off our continent’s North Atlantic coast, hungry Northern Gannets are gathering in the hundreds. They wheel and turn — over a shoal of fish — and then...the hunt begins. 

[Music]

From 100 feet in the air, the gannets plummet head-first, gaining momentum with powerful wing strokes. Just before hitting the water, they pull their wings close to their sides, piercing the surface in the shape of an arrowhead — at 60 miles per hour. A plunge-dive that carries a gannet well below the surface, where its lethal beak clamps down on a fish. Bobbing up, the gannet shakes its fishy prey with vigor, juggles it a bit, then swallows it head first. A brisk, splashing bath — and it’s up in the air for another dive. 

Such high-speed collisions would knock most creatures out cold. But Gannets have evolved air sacs in both the neck and shoulders that cushion the impact, and their skulls are specially reinforced. [Sound in here]

When they’re on the hunt, Gannets offer a spectacular combination of beauty and lethality, drawing droves of tourists to places like St. Bonaventure Island in Quebec. More than 100,000 gannets nest here in summer, tourists watching in awe as the birds perform their hunting acrobatics. Until early fall, when the tourists head home, and the gannets head out to sea for the winter. Only to return next spring, when the spectacle begins anew.

###

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Itha-ca, New York. Northern Gannets 133314 recorded by M. J. Fischer and G. A. Keller.
'Hora Decubitus (Edit)' by Charles Mingus, 1995 UMG Recordings.
BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2014 Tune In to Nature.org  September 2014 / September 2015 Narrator: Michael Stein
ID#   NOGA-02-2014-09-12    NOGA-02

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