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Imagine there’s just one appetizer left—and your friend grabs it without asking. Irritated as you may be, you probably wouldn’t tear it out of their hand. But a gannet would.
Dive-bombing from heights up to 300 feet and at speeds as fast as 60 mph, these sharp-beaked birds don’t bother with etiquette—as Tracey Lund captures in this amazing image, taken near the Shetland Islands last summer. “There was almost a fight going on,” Lund says. “Like, ‘I’ve got it! Get off! It’s mine!'”
Lund has witnessed this spectacle from above plenty of times, at a nature reserve near her home in Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire, England. But she wanted to see what it looked like underwater.
So on July 7, she drove six hours north and took a middle-of-the-night ferry to the Shetland Islands, located in the “wild sticks,” as Lund puts it, where the Atlantic and the North Sea meet. Tens of thousands of white northern gannets—the UK’s largest sea bird, with a six-foot wingspan—nest in its cliffs and feed in its cold blue waters.
Once there, Lund hired a small boat to take her out near the Isle of Noss, accompanied by fellow photographer Richard Shucksmith, whose own photos of gannets have made headlines. He lent Lund his underwater shooting gear—namely, a Nikon D4 camera with a fisheye lens, protected in waterproof housing and mounted on a 6-foot-long pole with a shutter release attached to the end. For a couple of hours, Lund sat on the edge of the boat with the camera dropped just under the surface of the water, squeezing the trigger as Shucksmith threw dead bait to draw the birds. “It was quite hard,” she says, “because literally as soon as they see the fish they’re dive-bombing.”
Among the 1,800 images she captured that afternoon was this one, which just won the wildlife category in the 2019 Sony World Photography Awards, which celebrated stellar images of all kinds (see above). Lund’s photo illustrates the birds’ incredible speed and force as they plunge from the sky, splashing bubbles exploding every which way as they squabble over fish. Etiquette be damned.
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