How do diving gannets avoid breaking their necks?

BBC Wildlife contributor Stuart Blackman answers your wild question.

Northern gannet (Morus bassanus) plunge-diving for fish alongside Shetland pelagic trawler

Diving gannet in the Shetland Isles © Chris Gomersall / NPL / Getty


Plunge-diving gannets hit the water at speeds of up to 86kph – fast enough to do some serious damage if they were a human diver.

The bird’s long, slender neck may look like it would buckle on impact, but the muscles are arranged to lock the vertebrae in place before entry – to the extent that gannets are theoretically capable of withstanding dive speeds of up to 288kph.

Other adaptations include a lack of external nostrils, which prevents water from being forced into the head, and air sacs under the skin that cushion the seabird’s breast. 

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