Cape Gannets Fading Towards Extinction? Hot

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Cape Gannet on Malgas Island

The Cape Gannet (Morus capensis) is losing 1% of its population per annum, which means that in the last 50 years, we have lost 50% of the Gannet population!

Listed as Vulnerable (likely to become Endangered unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve) on the IUCN's Red Data List, the decline is in part caused by the continuous heavy exploitation of its primary prey through commercial fisheries.

The Cape Gannet population relies on shoaling pelagic fish, such as anchovy and sardines, for the bulk of its diet. The recent trend of an eastward shift in the range of shoaling populations of sardines and continued heavy commercial fishing along the Cape West Coast, forces the gannets to travel much further in search of food.

Traveling further for prey has a higher energy demand on the breeding adults, who also resort to feeding on offal discarded by fishing boats. The offal is far less nutritious and this in turn has negative implications for breeding success and population health in general.

Breeding only takes place on six islands that lie off the Namibian and South African coastline and the majority of birds remain within 500km's of their breeding site all year round. Some birds will however travel as far as 3000km's when following shoaling fish, with the well-known “Sardine Run” being a prime example of such an event.  

The images below portray a glimpse into the lives of these charismatic seabirds that require a concerted conservation effort to stabilise their declining numbers.

 

Cape Gannet colony by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick1. A golden glow casts over the heads of the Cape Gannet breeding colony as the last rays of the sun reach out across the sky.

Cape Gannets flapping in the wind by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick2. A blustery wind that blows across Malgas Island, causes roosting birds to take to flight and hover into the wind and which can only be a considered as sheer enjoyment through the ability of flight.

Cape Gannet landing by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick3. Bachelor Cape Gannets gather on a large boulder where they socialize, preen and rest.

Cape Gannet flying into land by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick4. With the sun having disappeared over the horizon, Cape Gannets come in at speed to land in the center of their densely packed breeding colony, where they will roost for the night before heading out to sea again the following morning.

Cape Gannet and storm by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick5. The rising sun tries to break through the dense storm cloud that hangs over nesting Cape Gannets.

Cape Gannets and lighthouse by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick6. The lighthouse on Bird Island in Algoa Bay beams out as dusk approaches and Cape Gannets still streak across the sky in search of their landing spots where they will overnight.

Cape Gannets on Bird Island by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick7. Bird Island in Algoa Bay is the only known breeding colony where Cape Gannet populations are increasing in numbers, though unseasonal rain storms and increasing temperatures place the birds at risk to diseases such as avian cholera and avian malaria.

Cape Gannets skypointing by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick8. A Cape Gannet pair “Skypoint” as part of a complex greeting ritual after having spent the day apart. One of the pair was incubating on the nest, while the second bird spent the day feeding at sea.

Cape Gannets nuzzling by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick9. A Cape Gannet pair nuzzles affectionately as part of a pair strengthening ritual.

Cape Gannet playing with a feather by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick10. A discarded wing feather is passed between a pair of Cape Gannets in their pair-strengthening ritual.

Cape Gannet empty nest by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick11. An empty nest site stands out against the rest of the colony where nests are evenly spaced and built from mud.

Cape Gannet incubating by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick12. The Cape Gannet uses its large webbed feet to incubate the single egg.

Cape Gannet chick by by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick13. A newly hatched Cape Gannet chick peers out at its new world as the parent sits protectively over it.

Cape Gannet chick yawning by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick14. A downy Cape Gannet chick yawns widely as its is preened by its parent.

Cape Gannet dozing by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick15. At the end of a long day spent feeding at sea, a Cape gannet rests its long bill across its back and starts to doze off as a light wind ruffles its feathers.

Cape Gannet sleeping by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick16. Cape Gannets rest with their pale orange heads tucked deep into the feathers on their backs.

Cape Gannets sleeping by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick17. Two Cape Gannet bachelors sleep close to one another atop a large boulder as the rest of the colony busies itself around the sleeping pair.

Cape Gannet feet by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick18. The large and distinctively marked webbed feet of a Cape Gannet.

Cape Gannet flying by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick19. Cape Gannets are extremely efficient flies and may cover as much as 450km in a single days foraging for food.

Cape Gannet shadows by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick20. Cape Gannet shadows flit over a guano-covered boulder.

Cape Gannet at sea by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick21. A lone Cape Gannet flies over stormy rough seas in search of prey.

Cape Gannet death by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick22. And as all things must, when they die, their bodies provide nutrients from which new life grows.

All images and text by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

 

 

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Peter Chadwick
Author: Peter ChadwickWebsite: http://www.peterchadwick.co.zaEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
About
As a dedicated conservationist, Peter Chadwick has 30 years strategic and operational conservation experience in terrestrial and marine protected area management. He has worked within all of the major biomes in southern Africa as well as having provided expert conservation advice at a global level. His conservation and wildlife photography is a natural extension to his conservation work where he has numerous opportunities to capture photographs that showcase the beauty and complexity of the outdoors. Peter’s photography is internationally recognized, with this work appearing globally in a wide range of print and electronic media.