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Gannets are seabirds comprising the genus Morus, in the family Sulidae, closely related to the boobies. The other two species occur in the temperate seas around southern Africa, southern Australia and New Zealand.
- Gannets have a number of adaptations which enable them to do this: they have no external nostrils; they have air sacs in their face and chest under their skin which act like bubble wrapping, cushioning the impact with the water; their eyes are positioned far enough forward on their face to give them binocular vision, allowing them to judge distances accurately.
- Gannets can dive from a height of 30 m, achieving speeds of 100 km/h as they strike the water, enabling them to catch fish much deeper than most airborne birds.
- The gannet’s supposed capacity for eating large quantities of fish has led to “gannet” becoming a disapproving description of somebody who eats excessively, similar to “glutton”.
- The most important nesting ground for Northern gannets is the United Kingdom with about two thirds of the world’s population.
- These live mainly in Scotland, including the Shetland Isles.
- The rest of the world’s population is divided between Canada, Ireland, Faroe Islands and Iceland, with small numbers in France (they are often seen in the Bay of Biscay), the Channel Islands, Norway and a single colony in Germany on Heligoland.
- Sulasgeir off the coast of the Isle of Lewis, Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth, Grassholm in Pembrokeshire and Bonaventure Island, Quebec are also important Northern gannet breeding sites.
- The three gannet species are now usually placed in the genus Morus, Abbott’s Booby in Papasula, and the remaining boobies in Sula.
- Northern Gannet, (also known as “Solan Goose”), Morus bassanus Cape Gannet, Morus capensis Australasian Gannet, Morus serrator Most fossil gannets are from the Late Miocene or Pliocene, a time when the diversity of seabirds in general was much higher than today.
- Notably, gannets are today restricted to temperate oceans while boobies are also found in tropical waters, whereas several of the prehistoric gannet species had a more equatorial distribution than their congeners of today.
- Young gannets were historically used as a foodsource, a tradition still practised in Ness, Scotland, where they are called ‘guga’.
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