Pursuit plunging by northern gannets (Sula bassana) feeding on capelin (Mallotus villosus)

Proc Biol Sci. 2000 Sep 7;267(1454):1717-22. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2000.1200.


Northern gannets (Sula bassana) are considered to obtain prey usually by rapid, vertical, shallow plunge dives. In order to test this contention and investigate underwater foraging behaviour, we attached two types of data-logging systems to 11 parental northern gannets at Funk Island in the North-Wiest Atlantic. We documented, for the first time to the authors' knowledge, gannets performing long, flat-bottomed, U-shaped dives that involved underwater wing propulsion as well as rapid, shallow, V-shaped dives. The median and maximum dive depths and durations were 4.6 and 22.0 m and 8 and 38 s, respectively. Short, shallow dives were usually V-shaped and dives deeper than 8 m and longer than 10 s were usually U-shaped, including a period at constant depth (varying between 4 and 28s with median 8s). Diving occurred throughout the daylight period and deepest dives were performed during late morning. On the basis of motion sensors in the loggers and food collections from telemetered birds, we concluded that extended, deep dives were directed at deep schools of capelin, a small pelagic fish, and we hypothesized that V-shaped dives were aimed at larger, pelagic fishes and squids. Furthermore, these V-shaped dives allowed the birds to surprise their pelagic prey and this may be critical because the maximum swimming speeds of the prey species may exceed the maximum dive speeds of the birds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Diving / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Fishes*
  • Predatory Behavior*
  • Seawater
  • Swimming
  • Time Factors