Seabirds versus baitfish! The odds are pretty obvious, a straight forward calculation. Once the fish is in the bird’s beak, there’s no escape. That was always my impression, until now. Things aren’t always what they seem.
There are hidden obstacles to overcome, manoeuvres used and techniques utilised.
A struggle, that frustrates the hunter beyond believe.
Once the gannet breaks through the sound barrier and through the water surface, the bird utilises its propelled force and agility for a few meters underwater.
The fish doesn’t know what hits it and ends up caught. Gannets pick up a meal most times on their dives here in the hub. These harbour waters are a perfect fishing ground. Relatively clear, calm and shallow waters favour the hunter, not the hunted. Bigger garfish seemed to be choked until no more movement is detected.
Trying to swallow a strong flapping fish could easily yield in escape for the fish. Sometimes, they get slapped on the water surface, just to be sure, to be sure, to be sure. Gar-Garfish. This birds learnt its lesson.
Smaller garfish are hastily indulged, there’s hardly any meat on them.
A tasty appetiser. So far, so good.
A few times, I witnessed an unexpected obstacle to overcome, which became more obvious through my photo selection. This is what I captured.
Gannets, like all birds of the sea, swallow their fish whole. The garfish’s gender slender makes these fish ideal to flush down their long neck. But there’s a hook. Or better, a long snout with tiny, sharp teeth.
They won’t be harmful for the gannet’s health but inflict a different problem. If the prey is more then a mouthful, a long and pointy red nose is difficult to place into the gannet’s mouth.
The gannet needs to turn the fish by 90 degrees so that it can swallow the fish head-on. This includes the elastic, cartridge like nose. This is easier said than done with larger garfish.
The long snout just wouldn’t slip into this gannet’s beak. Or break off.
He slipped and he slapped, it just didn’t happen.
How about this technique then? Tossing the fish’s body weight in the air, rotation may slide it in perfect positioning? I am afraid not!
How frustrating would that be? Almost cruel to both participants.
Who would have thought to witness this life on camera? This is a tussle of unexpected proportions. Mind-blowing.
Let’s try this again. In order for the right position, this gannet would have to lower its grip on the fish towards the head.
That risks a possible escape from a flapping fish. But there is no other way. The whole fish needs to face the hungry gob, otherwise, it won’t be swallowed.
This scenario went on for quite a while. I wasn’t sure for who to feel remorse for.
The fish was literally hanging in there. The pointy snout is just too long, almost as long as the bird’s beak.
The frustration in the gannet’s body language was clear to read. How gannet be done?
The bird came up with an interesting consequence. It actually decided to fly off with the fish in its beak.
Where would it go and how would it end up swallowing this garfish? I didn’t find out, no happy ending on film. Size does matter!
Up in the air is the risk, that other birds may snatch the priced fish off this battled youngster.
Competition is fierce amongst fish eaters. I hope they don’t succeed.
Interestingly enough, the bird rinses its mouth with water after each meal.
Sometimes even twice. Garfish scales come off easily in contact with foreign objects.
This makes it harder for predatory fish to grip the fish, as the scales slip off. The garfish’s scales are relatively big.
And since we’re in the water, a wash generally follows.
This is quite a splashy event and effective for the camera. Water sprays in all direction, giving this photo a real sense of action.
Perfect circles form from the moving body, adding structure to this frame.
These grow bigger and bigger, making the water surface obscure.
On a picture-perfect, calm and sunny day, the photographic results are even better.
Reflecting anchor posts add perfectly to the calm surface. The ripples caused by the gannet’s movements look incredible on the post’s reflection.
So much colour rippled in various formations.
And a happy, slightly curious bird compliments the photo. Fantastic.