Original Articles

Distribution, population size and conservation of the Cape gannet Morus capensis

Published in: South African Journal of Marine Science
Volume 1, issue 1, 1983 , pages: 153–174
DOI: 10.2989/025776183784447458

Abstract

The Cape gannet is endemic to the southern African coast where it currently breeds at six islands: Mercury, Ichaboe and Possession off South West Africa and Bird (Lambert's Bay), Malgas and Bird (Algoa Bay) off South Africa. Previously, breeding also occurred at Hollams Bird, Halifax and Seal (False Bay) Islands. Equivocal records for Marcus, Dassen and Dyer Islands are not accepted. Off South West Africa, gannets were breeding at Hollams Bird, Mercury and Ichaboe Islands at least as early as 1828, but they only occupied Halifax and Possession Islands sometime between that date and c. 1885, possibly as a result of displacement of gannets from Ichaboe Island during exploitation of accumulated guano deposits in the early 1840s. Gannets bred at Hollams Bird Island until at least 1938, but had ceased breeding at Halifax Island by 1928. Off South Africa the earliest records of breeding are 1648, 1687, 1755 and 1912 for Malgas, Seal (False Bay), Bird (Port Elizabeth) and Bird (Lambert's Bay) Islands respectively. Gannets have not been reported at Seal Island since the late 17th century. On the west coast of Africa the Cape gannet is a regular nonbreeding winter visitor as far north as 4°20′N 6°00′E, but west of 6°E it is rare. On the east coast of Africa it is a common winter visitor as far north as Delagoa Bay, but farther north it is rare. Within its normal range the Cape gannet seldom occurs farther off shore than 100 km; it hardly ever moves inland. Aerial censuses of Cape gannets at breeding islands in 1967, 1969, 1978, 1980 and 1981 are compared with an aerial census conducted in 1956 and other published estimates of abundance. Between 1956 and 1980 the estimated number of breeding pairs at all colonies decreased from c. 150 000 to c. 80 000 and numbers decreased at all three extant gannetries off South West Africa. These decreases are attributed to a greatly diminished food resource following the collapse of the South West African pilchard stock after the late 1960s. The number of gannets decreased at Bird (Lambert's Bay) and Malgas Islands between 1956 and the late 1960s but subsequently increased, trends that are related to performances of the Western Cape pilchard and anchovy resources respectively. At Bird Island (Algoa Bay) gannets were up to 3,5 times more abundant in the late 1970s than in 1956. Other marine resources located east of Cape Point have shown similar large increases in recent years. Rates of increase of gannets at islands off South Africa during the 1970s would have required an unrealistically high survival for the first year had other population parameters remained constant. It is possible that birds emigrated from the South West African Islands. Few gannets have been reported oiled, and conservation of the species seems to be mainly affected by greatly reduced prey availability and injudicious guano harvesting. Human exploitation of juvenile gannets off the West African coast is difficult to assess.

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