Australasian gannets were the topic last week at the National Aquarium Royal Society lecture by Dr. Gabriel Machovsky- Capuska, research fellow in Nutritional Ecology at Sydney University. Australasian gannets occur in southern Australia and New Zealand.
Australasian Gannets, Morus serrator, are beautiful large black and white seabirds with yellow heads and the most interesting eye makeup you have ever seen. Black eye liner and blue eye shadow help to reflect the sun’s and the sea’s reflections and their long, pointed wings and long bills streamline their body for spectacular diving performance.
These birds are plunge divers and highly successful fishers! They hunt small anchovies, pilchards or mackerel which school near the surface by diving from a height of 30 metres, achieving speeds of 100 km/h as they strike the water pursuing their prey underwater.
Using underwater cameras Dr Machovsky-Capuska found that depending on the type of dive they complete their success rate is variable. With a 90 degree dive gannets catch about two fish per dive whereas with the 45 degree dive they can catch up to five fish before resurfacing.
Not far from the National Aquarium in Hawkes Bay there is a large protected gannet colony on the mainland at Cape Kidnappers with about 6,500 pairs.
The gannet’s supposed capacity for eating large quantities of fish has led to “gannet” becoming a disapproving description in New Zealand of somebody who eats too much.
As I prepare for life on the JOIDES Resolution and read about the cookie breaks twice a day and the mouth- watering menus, I hope I don’t plunge dive into the food like a gannet!