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Masked boobies flying by the ship. Photo: Malin Kvamme

The flying torpedoes

about 1 month ago
Life on board > The flying torpedoes

The flying torpedoes

about 1 month agoLife on board
Masked boobies flying by the ship. Photo: Malin Kvamme

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a disorderly formation flew past the masts of Statsraad Lehmkuhl. They are sulids, perhaps the most beautiful family of seabirds there are.

In the air, the birds looks a bit confused, flying high above the waves in small untidy formations. But the sulids are fantastic flyers, spending much of their lives in the air.

Malin Kvamme took the pictures on May 25, 2022. At that time, the ship's position was 17.07 degrees south and 125.30 degrees west, more than 900 kilometers north of the nearest island, Pitcairn - where the mutineers from HMS Bounty hid, but that's a different story.

Large birds

Sulids do not normally fly that far away from land, but it is not uncommon to encounter them far out to sea. These are large birds, 75-85 cm long, with a wingspan of 160-170 cm. There are many different species of sulids, also known as gannet and booby, all white with drawings in black or dark brown.

Masked booby flying by the ship. Photo: Malin Kvamme
Masked boobies flying by the ship. Photo: Malin Kvamme

The black wings and face of the bids Malin photographed show that they were masked boobies. The bird flying in front is young, still having dark patches on the back of the plumage.

Dancing

A little further north in the Pacific Ocean live the blue-footed booby. The blue feet are important when the male is looking for a mate. Then he dances slowly around, and shows off his beautiful flippers.

Blue-footed booby, photographed in Galapagos. Photo: Ronald Toppe
Blue-footed booby, photographed in Galapagos. Photo: Ronald Toppe

Along the coast of Norway, a species called northern gannet lives. They are white with black wing tips, and develop yellow heads during the breeding season.

Northern gannets. Photo: Ronald Toppe
Northern gannets. Photo: Ronald Toppe

Torpedo

The body of the sulids is shaped like a torpedo, and the beak is long and pointed, without nostrils - perfectly adapted to the way they hunt.

When the disorderly formation detects a school of fish below, they angle their wings backwards and plunge straight down towards the sea, the speed can reach 100 km/h. Just before they hit the waves, the wings are stretched tight along the body, and the "flying torpedo" plunges a few meters into the sea.

If they miss their prey, they swim in pursue, using both their large webbed feet and their wings.

Large colonies

In general, seabirds are threatened by climate change, overfishing and litter floating in the sea, but the sulids are fortunately doing well.

All sulids nest in large colonies. The nests are simple, and build on the ground. Each pair normally gives birth to two young. Sulids can live for a long time, the record is a masked booby released after getting stuck in a net, 24 years after it was ringed.

A colony of northern gannets in Shetland. Photo: Ronald Toppe
A colony of northern gannets in Shetland. Photo: Ronald Toppe

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