UK Gannet Feeding Frenzy
By Rebecca Drew
INCREDIBLE underwater action shots show a company of hungry gannets squabbling underwater to catch a fish super off the coast of the Shetland Isles.
The spectacular collection of photographs show the group of birds flying towards the surface of the water before manically trying to catch their prey. In contrast, other images show the gannets blissfully swimming together whilst searching out more fish to eat.
In another image, two seabirds can be seen swimming together, sharing a fish between their beaks.
The pictures were taken by ecological photographer, Dr Richard Shucksmith (43) on the Shetland Isles for the project, SCOTLAND: The Big Picture. To take his photos, he used a Nikon D4 camera fitted with Nauticam housing.
“Everyone photographs gannets above water but you do not see many images of gannets underwater when they dive to catch fish from the UK. I wanted to show this important behaviour,” said Richard.
“Gannets will plunge dive from between nine and fifteen metres above the water reaching up to one-hundred-kilometres per hour when they hit the surface.
“They have evolved for this way of foraging with air sacs in their head and neck that inflate to reduce the chances of impact injuries.
“Their nostrils are fused, preventing water from entering the sinuses.
“I could hear the birds as they hit the water right above my head and then appearing in front of the camera.
“It turned into a gannet frenzy, several times gannets skimmed my head and wings hit me in the face as I tried to capture the raw emotion of the feeding frenzy.
“Regardless of the abundance of prey, competition between gannets is always going occur as when a gannet dives this indicates to the other gannets to dive creating several gannets diving for the same fish.”
Gannets follow fishing boats to find food and feast on the discards that are thrown away. They are the largest seabird in the UK.
“I loved the close up and personal interaction with the UK’s largest seabird and watching the gannets underwater, as you do not normally see this behaviour,” added Richard.
“It was amazing to see how good they could swim underwater.
“I want to convey the message of how important the marine environment and having well managed and healthy fish stocks is for gannets and seabirds in general.
“We need healthy seas, we need to look after the seas for everyone, that includes all marine life and for people.”