Gannet - a bird with airbag?
The gannet is a beautiful bird which has airbag-like sacs that enable it to plunge-dive into the ocean at highway speeds to catch fish.
At 100 feet (30 meters) in the air, the gannet seabird does a nosedive straight into the waters of the ocean. When it hits the water, it has reached speeds of about 60 to 90 miles per hour (100 km/hr). This is highway speeds. Imagine your car on the freeway hitting a solid wall of water. The car's airbag would go off.
The gannet has air sacs around their necks and shoulders that they can inflate and function like airbags. It gulps in air during its descend. This and their thick skulls protects them when they hit the water. Their anatomy is also structured so that when they fold their wings, they are shaped like streamlined torpedoes. Their timing must be precise. They tuck their wings right at 0.82 seconds before hitting the water. They risk serious injury if their wings don't fold in time. Not only that, but with a group of gannets going after a school of fish, collisions is also a possibility.
To avoid getting water into their mouth, they are able to close their long pointed beaks very tight. They don't have to worry about closing their nostrils, because they don't have external nostril holes.
Not only is it a strong flier, it is a superb diver as well. After hitting the water, it dives up to 30 feet down. Why? To catch fish. And they can eat a lot of fish. They eat a varieties of fish and sometimes squid.
This method of catching prey is called plunge-diving.
In episode 4 "The Great Tide" of the BBC Documentary Nature's Great Events, you will see a large flock of gannet plunge-diving to catch sardines that formed a bait ball.
Filmed to dramatic music, the predator birds are really amazing to watch. You can see a clip of it on YouTube linked here.
Clip of Gannet Plunge-diving
Gannet has eyes set apart so that they can judge distance accurately with their binocular vision. But unfortunately, either due to slight miscalculation or collisions, accidents can happen. In the DVD (not the the YouTube clip), you do see one gannet who has broken its neck in the sardine feeding frenzy.
Photo of Gannet
Gannet are Beautiful Birds
Gannet are large black and white seabirds. They have wingspans of 6 feet (3 meters). They have yellow necks and head with black and white beaks. They lay bluish egg on land with newborn chick being completely black.
Threaten by oil spill
Unfortunately, with the BP Gulf oil spill of 2010, the northern gannet is one of the animal threatened by the spill.
The catastrophe led to the gannet having to dive through oil contaminated water which coat their feathers. And when they do catch fish, the fish is also likely to be contaminated as well. Linked here on comcast.net, you see a gannet being cleaned by human staff.