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Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Fly with the greatest sea bird in the world!

University of Exeter and RSPB scientists attach miniature cameras to gannets nesting on Grassholm nature reserve in Wales

A thrilling bird's eye glimpse of what life on the wing is like for the UK's biggest seabird has been provided by cameras attached to gannets as they soar, skim and dive. Scientists from the University of Exeter and the RSPB attached miniature cameras to some of the gannets that nest on the island nature reserve of RSPB Grassholm in Pembrokeshire, Wales, with fascinating results. 

 The footage gives an impression of the dizzying height the gannets rise to above the rocky cliffs and the speed at which they fly just above the surface of the sea. Most strikingly it captures the moment of a gannet's vertical plunge into the water in search of fish. Steve Votier, of the University of Exeter's environment and sustainability institute, said: "Seabirds spend most of their time at sea away from their nesting sites, making them difficult to study. This camera really helps shed light on their behaviour away from the colony; for example, it allows us to more accurately investigate their reliance on discards from trawlers and how they interact with other birds while far from land. "Gannets are long-lived seabirds and there is still much to learn about their life away from the breeding colony. 

The application of technology to study the private lives of gannets has been influential to our research in the short-term, but the goal is to continue this work in the long-term to help provide a sustainable future for gannets and other marine life." The cameras have provided new information on ways that gannets make use of waste from fishing boats. It was found that male gannets tended to feed more at trawlers than females, a difference that may have conservation implications when a ban on discarding is implemented under reforms to the EU common fisheries policy. 

 Mark Bolton, principal conservation scientist at the RSPB, who helped develop the devices, said: "The lightweight camera works alongside a GPS unit that allows us to accurately track birds' flight patterns and measure how long they are flying, feeding or resting. This information can answer both scientific and conservation questions and could contribute to the designation of marine conservation zones in Wales." The tiny island of Grassholm is home to the fourth-largest northern gannet colony in the world, with just under 40,000 pairs breeding there. More than half of the world's gannets nest around the UK coast.

Story courtesy of the Guardian's Envornmental pages.