If speed diving were an Olympic sport, the imperial cormorant would definitely medal. Dubbed “Superbird” by avian experts, the South American sea bird was videotaped diving 150 feet underwater in 40 seconds.
Imperial cormorants would probably be on the podium with a bunch of penguins, which are also ace divers. (There’s a very cool page about penguin diving here, which shows various species and how deep they dive.)
Just as technology is improving human athletics and sports timing accuracy, it’s also providing more accurate real-time recording of non-human animal physical feats. In this case, Flavio Quintana and colleagues from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the National Research Council of Argentina recently outfitted an imperial cormorant with a tiny camera and watched as it became Superbird. You can see the video below.
The avian swimming sensation dove 150 feet in 40 seconds. That distance is equivalent to a 13-story skyscraper with very tall ceilings on each floor.
The bird then stayed underwater for 80 seconds, enough time for it to catch a snakelike fish. With the fish in its beak, the imperial cormorant then returned to the surface in 40 seconds. The footage marks the first time that researchers have been able to directly view the feeding technique of these talented birds. You can even see how the camera was attached to the bird’s back, since the view is of the bird’s head as it pumps its feet to swim deeper.
The video was taken at Punta Leon in Patagonia, Argentina. This is a coastal protected area supporting more than 3.500 pairs of imperial cormorants. The research team has tracked 400+ cormorants along the Patagonian Coast of Argentina using such cutting-edge tools as multi-channel archival tags and high- resolution GPS-loggers, in addition to video.
The scientists are gathering all of this data to help identify priority feeding areas, which can then be safeguarded and monitored.
There are some 40 species of cormorants, one or more of which you might have seen near water. After they come ashore from a fishing trip, the birds frequently hold their wings out in the sun. It’s a sight you can’t miss if you’re nearby, as it’s quite dramatic. They have waterproof feathers, but this stance helps to dry out the outside of the feathers and wings, getting them ready for the next power dive.(Image: Wildlife Conservation Society)