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Champion divers but clumsy landers, doting parents but hostile neighbors—northern gannets abound in contradictions. Long tied to maritime cultures, gannets are flourishing today in crowded colonies around the North Atlantic. At Hermaness National Nature Reserve in Scotland's Shetland Islands, adult gannets soar above the coastal churn.
Colonies where northern gannets breed and raise their young tend to be in windy, dramatic spots, like this ledge at Hermaness. Two landing gannets raise the ire of their Shetland neighbors, a common sight in a hectic colony. The Chilean devil ray is one heck of a swimmer—the fish make surprisingly fast and deep dives into the Atlantic Ocean, a new study says. When scientists first put satellite tags on, they expected the devil rays to stay close to warm surface waters, where they’re frequently seen.
Not only are the fish faster and deeper divers than most other fish, they also travel farther than thought. Whale sharks, northern elephant seals, and Cuvier’s beaked whales are among the only species known to dive as deep as devil rays—most large predators can’t handle the frigid temperatures, low oxygen, and high pressure found below depths of 3,200 feet (1,000 meters). Those that can are specially equipped to keep their bodies warm as they dive into waters where temperatures are lower than 39 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius).
Scientists have known since the mid-1990s that Chilean devil rays have the ability to stay warm. No one understood why, though, since devil rays were thought to live in warm, shallow waters.


The discovery of the rays’ deep dives offers an explanation—and that, in turn, explains why they’re swimming so fast.
During the dives, which typically last 60 to 90 minutes, the rays rapidly descend, then start to slow down and swim horizontally as they reach the desired depth. Basking sharks are the only other large ocean predator known to stay in such cold waters for extended periods.
To learn more about these superb divers, the team will have to use different types of tags, including acoustic tags that can be left on for several years. We’re Moving!As of October 22, 2014, Weird & Wild will be hosted on National Geographic's main news site. PS Cumulus Flash tag cloud adapted from the Wordpress original by Roy Tanck requires Flash Player 9 or better. Snugly insulated by thick feathers and fat beneath their skin, these far-foraging seabirds are built for life in cold, turbulent northern waters. When the diving birds break the surface, at up to 70 miles an hour, air sacs buffer their heads and chests. A pair of gannets will usually stay together for years, breeding each year at the same site. Amid the constant commotion, families nestle close and will often groom one another—an intimate act known as allopreening that helps defuse tension. But their research, published July 1 in Nature Communications, shows that the rays frequently descend more than 5,900 feet (1,800 meters) into a part of the ocean that few other species are able to reach. In comparison, sperm whales and beaked whales typically dive at about 2 to 4 miles (3 to 6 kilometers) an hour; Atlantic bluefin tuna and yellowfin tuna dive at about 9 to 11 miles (14 to 18 kilometers) an hour.


The study revealed that Chilean devil rays migrate more than about 2,400 miles (3,800 kilometers) over the course of about six months—that’s well beyond the distances traveled by other species of devil rays previously studied in the Pacific Ocean or Mediterranean Sea. But as recalculations produced the same results, they team knew they’d discovered something rare.
For the new study, between 2011 and 2012, scientists tagged 15 devil rays off the Azores (map), a Portuguese island chain in the North Atlantic where the animals regularly congregate. Most of the rays prepare for and recover from dives by spending at least an hour near the surface before and after daytime dives, which are most common. Future studies will also give greater insight into the importance of the deep ocean and its inhabitants. On land, partners continually reinforce their bond by touching bills, biting napes, and building nests together. Nests are arranged in a canny geometry of two per ten square feet—just out of jabbing range.
The tags were programmed to automatically drop off the animals after six months, at which point they float to the surface and send data to a satellite.



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