HomeWorld NewsQuebec gannets continue to fascinate marine biologists

Quebec gannets continue to fascinate marine biologists

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Northern gannets share two maxims familiar to humans: “home sweet home” and “don’t tread on me.”

They huddle on a plateau on Bonaventure Island like New York commuters stuck on the subway, only noisier. They are devoted parents and could teach humans a thing or two about loyalty in marriage.

Year after year, pairs of gannets arrive separately from the distant and scattered waters of the Atlantic to reunite, mate again, and raise new chicks in the precise nesting grounds they called home before heading south for the winter.

The island just off Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula offers a remarkable glimpse of northern gannets because they are easily accessible in large numbers, seem to ignore humans, and unlike many seabird species, endure being studied and tagged. .

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Their struggles to feed and reproduce in warm weather are being closely watched by scientists.

Some of the lessons learned here and from other colonies about the life of gannets:

Lifemates: Gannets seem to be better at monogamy than humans, despite spending half the year apart, or perhaps because of it.

Northern gannets fly near Bonaventure Island in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence off the coast of Quebec, Canada’s Gaspe Peninsula, on September 13, 2022.
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Marine biologist David Pelletier, an expert in nest behavior who teaches at Cegep de Rimouski, found that 69% remain “faithful”; which means that they reproduce with the same partner for life; 22% are “divorced”, which means they find new partners; 9% are widowed.

By contrast, about a third of Americans who have ever been married have been divorced.

Yes, but: It’s about the base of operations, not the romance, scientists say, though does anyone really know what’s at the heart of a gannet?

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“Gannets are mostly loyal to their territory, which explains why they remain quite loyal to their mate,” Pelletier said.

That primal need to meet on the exact same ground comes with a surprising hostility toward neighborhood trespassers. Birds don’t want the next gannet to enter their territory, even when they reside just separated by a wingspan. That’s when things get ugly. They bite, squeal, and can fight to the point of exhaustion, sometimes to the death.

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