Following our blog series on marine fauna with The Peoples of the Sea, we present to you today a mythical seabird with an intriguing name, the Northen Gannet. Discover this extraordinary bird and download the seludé sheet to find out everything about this seabird during your next observation at sea!
Origin of its name
The largest seabird in the Western Palearctic, the Northern Gannet ( was so named by
Scottish fishermen for its spectacular dives and its large breeding population on Bass Island in Scotland ( up to 150,000 individuals, i.e. approximately 60% of the European population), where they nest in quite harsh conditions
The Northen Gannets present in the Mediterranean breed in Brittany
Mediterranean gannets belong to the North Atlantic subspecies, whose breeding populations extend as far as Canada (Quebec and Newfoundland). Two other subspecies exist in the world. One of them is present on the southern coasts of Africa while the second inhabits Tasmania and New Zealand.
Breeding of Gannets occurs in France on Rouzi Island in the “Seven Islands Reserve”. This island protected from human activity features steep cliffs and ledges appreciated by gannets who use them as breeding habitat.
Some rare isolated breedings have already taken place in the Mediterranean, however they have not always been successful nor renewed the following year, despite the fact that Mediterranean coasts are not exempt from cliffs and cornices. The gregarious behavior during the reproductive season can explain this phenomenon coupled with a high fidelity to the breeding site.
Northen Gannets sightings in the Mediterranean
Despite everything, gannets are observable all year round in the Mediterranean. Indeed, only sexually mature individuals reproduce in the Atlantic. Consequently and because adulthood occurs after 4 years of life, immature gannets are visible all year round in the Mediterranean. Their plumage is very different from adult gannets. During fall and winter, adult gannets are also present, thus increasing the size of the population in this period.
The gannet is pretty easily sighted in the Mediterranean Sea. Its large size, its characteristic flight and its typical plumage allow it to be detected from afar. On the other hand, fluctuations in numbers interacting with movements linked to food resources can sometimes make it more difficult to observe them.
Particularities of the Northen Gannet: an extraordinary view and a body made for hunting
This seabird is one of the few to have a “front view”. This feature coupled with an exceptional sight gives it the ability to dive from a height of 40 meters with disconcerting precision as to the location of its prey (binocular vision). In order to cushion the shock during their dive, small pockets of air are present under its skin at the level of the head, the neck and up to the sides of the bird.
Its eyes are protected by a transparent nictitating membrane allowing it to see its prey underwater. Most prey is captured at a depth between 6 and 15 meters and engulfed underwater. Thus the gannets always come up with an empty beak. During the feeding phase of the young at the nests, they are able to travel up to 1000 km within a radius of 100 km around the breeding area. Once enough fish have accumulated, pairs return to the nests to regurgitate leftovers from their meals.
Observation tips and regulations
The Gannet is a protected species. It is therefore strictly forbidden to capture them, intentionally disturb them or degrade their breeding habitat and their feeding areas. It is a species whose “approach” always ends with the bird fleeing. It is therefore important to disturb them as little as possible by keeping a distance (between 50 and 100 meters) in order to be able to observe them using binoculars, an essential tool for any nature lover.