Photograph by Bob Smith, National Geographic
Published August 1, 2012
Scientists in Argentina recently attached a lipstick-size video camera to an imperial cormorant's back. The result? Footage of the so-called Superbird diving 150 feet (46 meters) to the seafloor to catch a fish—far deeper than researchers thought cormorants could plunge.
"Superbird" Video: Watch Imperial Cormorant's Seafloor Dive
The bird's-eye view footage shocked researchers, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which teamed up with the National Research Council of Argentina (CONICET) on the project and released the cormorant video Tuesday.
"The assumption was that they fed on the surface, or just below the surface," said WCS biologist Martin Mendez, spokesperson for the project, which was led by CONICET biologist Flavio Quintana.
"This is the first time we have seen them diving to the floor. It's a new behavior—people didn't know about this before."
Imperial cormorants gather in large colonies on land, but when they leave to feed, they fly solo, and researchers weren't sure why the birds stop in certain places. The virtual tag-along ride was intended to help solve that mystery.
"The team wanted to document the situation of where these animals fed, what they were looking at," Mendez said. "They wanted to see what it was the animals were seeing ... "
A cormorant generally returns to the same nest, "so if you mark the nest, you know which animal is going to come back to it, and you can track them and [retrieve] the camera there."
(See an award-winning picture of a diving cormorant penetrating a "globe" of fish underwater.)
Already turning heads online, the video may draw attention to the cormorant flocks of Argentina—a welcome development, according to Mendez. Discoveries like this can affect which natural habitats the Argentine government chooses to preserve.
"We think it's going to influence the protection of this area," he said.
How to Feed Our Growing Planet
National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series.
The Innovators Project
Meet some of science's most important movers and shakers—from past and present.
Latest News Video
Mazes are a powerful tool for neuroscientists trying to figure out the brain and help us learn to grapple with the unexpected.