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(Snake) Pipefish Invasion
Store Havnål - Entelurus aequoraeus

Pipefish sp, dropped by gulls, Skogsøy, 17 April 2006


During the last couple of years the Pipefish population seems to have exploded, I seem to see them everywhere and they would appear to form a significant part of the diet for many fish eating birdsfrom Kristiansund in the north to Tananger in the south and even offshore on the Sleipner and Kristin fields (latter is 65 degrees north).

In the past I would occasionally see pipefish being plucked up from the surface by feeding gulls, nowadays this seems to be a daily occurence. There are reports of pipefish being used as nesting material by seabirds - something that must indicate their poor nutritional value and they certainly seem to be hard to swallow, requiring a lot of head shaking and struggling before they finally go down. 

Pipefish dropped by a passing gull, Hernar, SW Norway, April 2015

This phenomenon does not seem to be restricted to SW Norway; during a trip back home to Northumberland in the summer of 2006 there were huge numbers of pipefish along the shores and in the rock pools - something I rarely experienced as a child in the same area.

Even the fish I catch have stomachs full of pipefish. Something must be happening to the ecosystem to cause this massive increase in pipefish numbers - and from what I can find out it seems that this is due to global warming. Warmer waters in the North Atlantic have led to a vast increase in the numbers of pipefish. A link to some more about this can be found here and here.

Reports I have read have indicated that terns and small gulls experience problems feeding on these fish - especially when they then give these to nestlings. However, pipefish can grow to quite a size and even large gulls can have difficulties with them. Often gulls are seen flying around with the tail of a partially swallowed pipefish at least 15 minutes after capture.

Herring Gull with partially swallowed pipefish
Herring Gull with partially swallowed pipefish, Skogsøy, SW Norway
September 2007

I have seen all manner of seabirds eating pipefish - including Great Northern Diver and Iceland Gull.

Below are a few record shots of various species of birds having difficulty swallowing these strange fish.

igiscoping, digibinning, Black-legged Kittiwake catching pipefishbird photography, DSLR
Blacl-legged Kittiwake catching pipefish, near Kristin platform (65 degrees latitude), April 2007

Red-breasted Merganser struggling with pipefish
Red-breasted Merganser / Siland, Alvheim, January 2007

Kittiwake with pipefish
Black-legged Kittiwake / Krykkje, Sleipner, February 2007
The tail of a pipefish can be seen protruding from the bird's beak.

Shag with pipefish
Eurasian Shag / Toppskarv, Tananger, 31 January 2007

Above pictures taken with a Canon EOS400D with a Sigma 70-300mm telephoto lens

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