Visual accommodation and active pursuit of prey underwater in a plunge-diving bird: The Australasian gannet

Gabriel E. Machovsky-Capuska, Howard C. Howland, David Raubenheimer, Robin Vaughn-Hirshorn, Bernd Würsig, Mark E. Hauber, Gadi Katzir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Australasian gannets (Morus serrator), like many other seabird species, locate pelagic prey from the air and perform rapid plunge dives for their capture. Prey are captured underwater either in the momentum (M) phase of the dive while descending through the water column, or the wing flapping (WF) phase while moving, using the wings for propulsion. Detection of prey from the air is clearly visually guided, but it remains unknown whether plunge diving birds also use vision in the underwater phase of the dive. Here we address the question of whether gannets are capable of visually accommodating in the transition from aerial to aquatic vision, and analyse underwater video footage for evidence that gannets use vision in the aquatic phases of hunting. Photokeratometry and infrared video photorefraction revealed that, immediately upon submergence of the head, gannet eyes accommodate and overcome the loss of greater than 45 D (dioptres) of corneal refractive power which occurs in the transition between air and water. Analyses of underwater video showed the highest prey capture rates during WF phase when gannets actively pursue individual fish, a behaviour that very likely involves visual guidance, following the transition after the plunge dive's M phase. This is to our knowledge the first demonstration of the capacity for visual accommodation underwater in a plunge diving bird while capturing submerged prey detected from the air.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4118-4125
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1745
StatePublished - Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Amphibious vision
  • Corneal power
  • Foraging tactics
  • Gannets
  • Underwater accommodation
  • Visual prey detection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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