Diving seabirds: Working hard and living long

Jul 02, 2012
These are Brünnich's guillemots on an ice floe at Coats Island in northern Hudson Bay, Canada. Credit: Kyle Elliott

Scientists have found that diving birds reach their 30s and then die quickly and suddenly, showing few signs of aging prior to death. Their findings, which will be presented at the Society for Experimental Biology meeting in Salzburg on 2nd July could help us understand the aging process, providing critical insights for our aging population.

The guillemots – which look similar to penguins but can fly – have the highest flight costs of any bird and expend substantial energy for diving. Their high metabolisms and frequent dives should produce oxidative stress, causing the to deteriorate as they . But, the researchers discovered that the birds stay fit and active as they grow older, maintaining their flying, diving, and foraging abilities.

Brünnich's guillemots have the highest flight costs of any bird. Credit: Kyle Elliott

Kyle Elliott, a PhD student at the University of Manitoba and the study's lead author, said, "Most of what we know about aging is from studies of short-lived round worms, fruit flies, mice, and chickens, but long-lived animals age differently. We need data from long-lived animals, and one good example is long-lived seabirds."

Elliott also said, "Not only do these birds live very long, but they maintain their energetic lifestyle in a very extreme environment into old age."

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
This clip was filmed at the Brünnich's guillemots research camp on Coats Island, northern Hudson Bay in July-August 2011, with a few stills from earlier years. Credit: Tony Gaston

One bird, nicknamed 'Wayne Gretzky' by the researchers (after the Canadian hockey great who played 20 seasons and because the bird's identification band colours matched Gretzky's team colours), raised young for 18 consecutive years.

Over 4 consecutive summers, researchers periodically tracked Brünnich's guillemots' fitness, recording how deep and for how long they would for prey, how far and fast they would fly, and how much energy they expended on these activities. They looked for changes in the birds' behaviour and metabolism.

Explore further: Lost sea lion in California found mile from water

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Live fast, die young? Maybe not

Mar 09, 2009

The theory that a higher metabolism means a shorter lifespan may have reached the end of its own life, thanks to a study published in the journal Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. The study, led by Lobke Vaanholt (University ...

Animals have personalities, too

Apr 28, 2011

An individual's personality can have a big effect on their life. Some people are outgoing and gregarious while others find novel situations stressful which can be detrimental to their health and wellbeing. Increasingly, scientists ...

Want to monitor climate change? P-p-p-pick up a penguin!

Apr 04, 2007

We are used to hearing about the effects of climate change in terms of unusual animal behaviour, such as altering patterns of fish and bird migration. However, scientists at the University of Birmingham are ...

Recommended for you

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

15 hours ago

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

18 hours ago

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

18 hours ago

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

Deadly human pathogen Cryptococcus fully sequenced

Within each strand of DNA lies the blueprint for building an organism, along with the keys to its evolution and survival. These genetic instructions can give valuable insight into why pathogens like Cryptococcus ne ...

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...

Venture investments jump to $9.5B in 1Q

Funding for U.S. startup companies soared 57 percent in the first quarter to a level not seen since 2001, as venture capitalists piled more money into an increasing number of deals, according to a report due out Friday.