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Overview

Distribution

Greater shearwaters are a marine species distributed throughout the region of the Atlantic ocean. Puffinus gravis breed in the far south Atlantic, mainly on the islands of the Tristan da Cunha group, the Falkland Islands, and Gough Island. P. gravis then migrates to the North Atlantic during the winter, reaching noth-east Canada and sometimes reaching as far north as Greenland. Migration to the breeding grounds involves a flight east, past Britain and Iberia, than turning south to reach their Southern Hemisphere breeding grounds.

(del Hoyo, Elliot, and Sargatal 1992; Farrand 1985; Gooders 1978)

Biogeographic Regions: oceanic islands (Native ); atlantic ocean (Native )

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Range Description

This species breeds at three main sites: Nightingale and Inaccessible islands in the Tristan da Cunha group, and Gough Island, Tristan da Cunha (to UK) (Snow and Perrins 1998, Carboneras 1992d). Birds also breed in small numbers in the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), where the only confirmed site is Kidney Island (no more than 15 pairs recorded in 1987 (Woods 1988)), though there is a slight possibilty of breeding near Wineglass Hill, East Falkland, where one has been caught (Woods and Woods 1997).
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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Non-breeding

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Non-breeding

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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Breeds in southern Atlantic Ocean on Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island, and in Falkland Islands (Croxall et al. 1984). Ranges at sea throughout Atlantic Ocean from Greenland and Iceland to Tierra del Fuego and South Africa.

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North America; range extends from Greenland, Iceland to Tristan da Cunha Is. in the southern Atlantic, where the species breeds
  • North-West Atlantic Ocean species (NWARMS)
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Range

Islands in s Atlantic Ocean; ranges n Atlantic to Arctic Circle.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Atlantic Ocean, north to southern Iceland, and south to South Africa and southern tip of South America.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Puffinus gravis is a large shearwater species, 43-51cm in length, with a wingspan of 100-118cm. Colouring is unique with a combination of pale underparts with a poorly defined dark patch on the belly. White bands of plumage occur across the uppertail-coverts and also across the hindneck, emphasizing the Greater Shearwaters strongly capped appearance. Upperparts are dark gray-brown to black with light feather edgings to give a scaled appearance. Flight feathers have black upper- and undersurfaces. The tubenosed bill is long, thin, and black. The legs are pink to grey with webbed feet, and eyes are brown. Chicks have bluish-grey down and juveniles are similar to adults but greyer with paler fringes to feathers to give less scaled appearance. There is no sexual dimorphism in terms of size or colour between males and females.

(Campbell 1974; del Hoyo, Elliot, and Sargatal 1992; Farrand 1985; Gooders 1978)

Range mass: 715 to 950 g.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Size

Length: 48 cm

Weight: 849 grams

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Length: 46-53 cm, Wingspan: 100-111 cm
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Ecology

Habitat

P. gravis is a marine, pelagic bird species, frequenting cool offshore and pelagic waters, and breeding on sloping ground, mainly in grassland or woodland areas (del Hoyo, Elliot, and Sargatal 1992; Gooders 1978)

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Adults begin a transequatorial migration in April, moving north-west to South America, up to Canada, past Greenland and onto the north-east Atlantic before returning south in November to the breeding islands (Carboneras 1992d, Harrison 1983). The species breeds on sloping ground, mainly in areas of tussock grass or Phylica woodland. It feeds mostly on fish, squid and fish offal (attending trawlers, sometimes in large numbers), and also on some crustaceans (Carboneras 1992d).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Marine
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Comments: Pelagic. Nests in burrows on oceanic islands.

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Depth range based on 19587 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 17445 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 2215
  Temperature range (°C): -0.994 - 27.728
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.051 - 23.749
  Salinity (PPS): 22.907 - 37.066
  Oxygen (ml/l): 3.595 - 8.560
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.034 - 1.713
  Silicate (umol/l): 0.565 - 27.270

Graphical representation

Depth range (m): 0 - 2215

Temperature range (°C): -0.994 - 27.728

Nitrate (umol/L): 0.051 - 23.749

Salinity (PPS): 22.907 - 37.066

Oxygen (ml/l): 3.595 - 8.560

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.034 - 1.713

Silicate (umol/l): 0.565 - 27.270
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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Open ocean and islands.
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Stellwagen Bank Pelagic Community

 

The species associated with this page are major players in the pelagic ecosystem of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Stellwagen Bank is an undersea gravel and sand deposit stretching between Cape Cod and Cape Ann off the coast of Massachussets. Protected since 1993 as the region’s first National Marine Sanctuary, the bank is known primarily for whale-watching and commercial fishing of cod, lobster, hake, and other species (Eldredge 1993). 

Massachusetts Bay, and Stellwagen Bank in particular, show a marked concentration of biodiversity in comparison to the broader coastal North Atlantic. This diversity is supported from the bottom of the food chain. The pattern of currents and bathymetry in the area support high levels of phytoplankton productivity, which in turn support dense populations of schooling fish such as sand lance, herring, and mackerel, all important prey for larger fish, mammals, and seabirds (NOAA 2010). Sightings of many species of whales and seabirds are best predicted by spatial and temporal distribution of prey species (Jiang et al 2007; NOAA 2010), providing support for the theory that the region’s diversity is productivity-driven.

Stellwagen Bank is utilized as a significant migration stopover point for many species of shorebird. Summer visitors include Wilson’s storm-petrel, shearwaters, Arctic terns, and red phalaropes, while winter visitors include black-legged kittiwakes, great cormorants, Atlantic puffins, and razorbills. Various cormorants and gulls, the common murre, and the common eider all form significant breeding colonies in the sanctuary as well (NOAA 2010). The community of locally-breeding birds in particular is adversely affected by human activity. As land use along the shore changes and fishing activity increases, the prevalence of garbage and detritus favors gulls, especially herring and black-backed gulls. As gull survivorship increases, gulls begin to dominate competition for nesting sites, to the detriment of other species (NOAA 2010). 

In addition to various other cetaceans and pinnipeds, the world’s only remaining population of North Atlantic right whales summers in the Stellwagen Bank sanctuary. Right whales and other baleen whales feed on the abundant copepods and phytoplankton of the region, while toothed whales, pinnipeds, and belugas feed on fish and cephalopods (NOAA 2010). The greatest direct threats to cetaceans in the sanctuary are entanglement with fishing gear and death by vessel strikes (NOAA 2010), but a growing body of evidence suggests that noise pollution harms marine mammals by masking their acoustic communication and damaging their hearing (Clark et al 2009).

General threats to the ecosystem as a whole include overfishing and environmental contaminants. Fishing pressure in the Gulf of Maine area has three negative effects. First and most obviously, it reduces the abundance of fish species, harming both the fish and all organisms dependent on the fish as food sources. Secondly, human preference for large fish disproportionately damages the resilience of fish populations, as large females produce more abundant, higher quality eggs than small females. Third, by preferentially catching large fish, humans have exerted an intense selective pressure on food fish species for smaller body size. This extreme selective pressure has caused a selective sweep, diminishing the variation in gene pools of many commercial fisheries (NOAA 2010). While the waters of the SBNMS are significantly cleaner than Massachusetts Bay as a whole, elevated levels of PCBs have been measured in cetaceans and seabird eggs (NOAA 2010). Additionally, iron and copper leaching from the contaminated sediments of Boston Harbor occasionally reach the preserve (Li et al 2010). 


  • Clark CW, Ellison WT, Southall BL, Hatch L, Van Parijs SM, Frankel A, Ponirakis D. 2009. Acoustic masking in marine ecosystems: intuitions, analysis and implication. Inter-Research Marine Ecology Progress Series 395:201-222.
  • Eldredge, Maureen. 1993. Stellwagen Bank: New England’s first sanctuary. Oceanus 36:72.
  • Jiang M, Brown MW, Turner JT, Kenney RD, Mayo CA, Zhang Z, Zhou M. Springtime transport and retention of Calanus finmarchicus in Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays, USA, and implications for right whale foraging. Marine Ecology 349:183-197.
  • Li L, Pala F, Mingshun J, Krahforst C, Wallace G. 2010. Three-dimensional modeling of Cu and Pb distributions in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts and Cape Cod Bays. Estuarine Coastal & Shelf Science. 88:450-463.
  • National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration. 2010. Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctary Final Management Plan and Environmental Assessment. “Section IV: Resource States” pp. 51-143. http://stellwagen.noaa.gov/management/fmp/pdfs/sbnms_fmp2010_lo.pdf
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Migration

Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Migrates north in western Atlantic in northern spring and summer (mainly May-September off U.S. coast).

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Travel to North Atlantic for summer months, then migrate south to breed.
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Trophic Strategy

Greater Shearwaters feed in groups where aggressive intraspecific feeding competition is evident through lashing with bills and wings. They eat mostly fish and squid, with occasional feeding on crustaceans, fish entrails, and other refuse discarded by fishing vessels. They hunt by plunge-diving from heights of 6-10m or taking prey from surface seizing or pursuit diving.

Surface-seizing consists of the 'walking on water' that is usually associated with Storm Petrels. Without entirely folding its wings, a Greater Shearwater lands on the water surface with its feet, balances with its wings, and "walks" forward over the water as it picks up food from near the surface.

Plunge-diving involves striking the water surface from heights of 6-10 m with belly and feet and then instantly lowering the head under the water surface to lead into a smooth submersion. Occasionally, a Greater Shearwater might briefly halt 0.5 m above the water surface, spread its feet, then plunge headfirst underneath the water. After the dive, the bird bursts out of the water and almost directly into flight.

(Brown, Bourne, and Wahle 1978; del Hoyo, Elliot, and Sargatal 1992; Gooders 1978)

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Comments: Follows and catches surface-feeding fishes, also squids, crustaceans, and small fishes such as sand launces; dives under surface for fishes and rises into air to swallow. Also eats offal from fishing boats and apparently whale feces.

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Fish and squid, also crustaceans and bits of scrap from fishing vessels.
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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 1 - 20

Comments: Breeds at only four sites.

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Global Abundance

>1,000,000 individuals

Comments: More than 5 million pairs nest on Tristan da Cunha, and between 600,000 and 3 million pairs nest on Gough Island (del Hoyo et al. 1992).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Cyclicity

Comments: When nesting, parents at sea most of day. Many birds over land at sunset, then come to ground. Night activity peaks at about 9 p.m. and 3:30 a.m. Asleep on ground from about midnight on. See Palmer (1962).

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Life Expectancy

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
85 months.

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Reproduction

The breeding season commences in October and often lasts until December. Breeding takes place in the Southern Hemisphere and is restricted to the far south oceanic islands: Tristan da Cunha group, Falkland Island, and Gough Island. Puffinus gravis is a colonial nester, nesting in burrows or crevices among boulders along hilly island shores. The female produces a single, white, oval, and slightly pointed egg. The egg is incubated for 53-57 days, and an altricial offspring is then hatched. Both male and female care for young. Offspring become independent of their parents at about 105 days. (del Hoyo, Elliot, and Sargatal 1992; Gooders 1978)

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

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Average laying date is 11 Novenber. Clutch size is 1. Incubation lasts about 55 days. Young are tended by both parents, first fly at about 84 days, depart at about 105 days. Parents depart in April while young still in burrows. Average of 1.6 nesting burrows/sq yd (Palmer 1962).

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Breeding takes place from November to May. Breeding colonies are located on islands in South Atlantic. Nest is a burrow. 1 egg, incubated for around 55 days. Young are fed by both parents at night.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Puffinus gravis

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

Greater Shearwaters are not globally threatened. They are abundant with enormous total populations of a minimum 5 million breeding pairs on Tristan da Cunha, 600,000 to 3 million pairs on Gough Island, and small numbers on Falkland Islands. Their breeding range is restricted with only 4 sites known. Where the problem lies is with exploitation by Tristan islanders. Each year, a few thousand adults, and 50,000 chicks are taken. This could lead to a population collapse unless a quota system is established to allow for rational exploitation. More research is required in this area, as well as in the areas of the impact of harvesting on Greater Shearwaters, and the importance of other causes of mortality and population dynamics, in order to determine the maximum sustainable levels of exploitation. Another issue to be addressed is that of the occasional Greater Shearwater that is snared by fishermen's baited hooks.

Very little research has been done, but is required to ensure the maintenance of healthy populations of Puffinus gravis worldwide.

(del Hoyo, Elliot, and Sargatal 1992)

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
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National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5N - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5N - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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No official conservation status.
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Population

Population
Brooke (2004) estimated the global population to number at least 15,000,000 individuals. A minimum of 5,000,000 pairs are thought to breed at Tristan da Cunha, and 600,000 to 3,000,000 pairs at Gough (Carboneras 1992d).

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Major Threats
Several thousand adults and c.50,000 chicks are harvested every year from Nightingale Island by Tristan Islanders, which could lead to the collapse of the population without research into sustainable harvesting levels (Carboneras 1992d). Although there is no real evidence of threats to the tiny confirmed Falkland breeding population, predation by feral cats at Wineglass Hill would be a threat to any breeding there (R. Woods in litt. 1999).
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Comments: Vulnerable because of restricted breeding distribution. A few thousand adults and about 50,000 chicks are harvested each year on Tristan da Cunha (del Hoyo et al. 1992).

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

In the past, Greater Shearwaters had been used to provide food and bait for seamen, but this practice has long since been discarded and aside from the occasional contact with fishermen, and Tristan islanders, P. gravis has mostly no contact with humans.

 (del Hoyo, Elliot, and Sargatal 1992; Cassidy 1990)
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Wikipedia

Great shearwater

The great shearwater (Puffinus gravis) is a large shearwater in the seabird family Procellariidae. Its relationships are unclear. It belongs in the group of large species that could be separated as genus Ardenna (Penhallurick & Wink 2004); within these, it might be allied with the other black-billed, blunt-tailed species, the short-tailed shearwater and especially the sooty shearwater (Austin 1996, Heidrich et al. 1998). Alternatively (Austin 1996, Austin et al. 2004), it could be a monotypic subgenus (Ardenna sensu stricto), an Atlantic representative of the light-billed Hemipuffinus group (pink-footed shearwater and flesh-footed shearwater).

This species breeds on Nightingale Island, Inaccessible Island, Tristan da Cunha, and Gough Island. It is one of only a few bird species to migrate from breeding grounds in the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere, the normal pattern being the other way round. This shearwater nests in large colonies, laying one white egg in a small burrow or in the open grass. These nests are visited only at night to avoid predation by large gulls.

This shearwater, like the sooty shearwater, follows a circular route, moving up the eastern seaboard of first South and then North America, before crossing the Atlantic in August. It can be quite common off the south-western coasts of Great Britain and Ireland before heading back south again, this time down the eastern littoral of the Atlantic.

In flight

This bird has the typically "shearing" flight of the genus, dipping from side to side on stiff wings with few wingbeats, the wingtips almost touching the water. Its flight is powerful and direct, with wings held stiff and straight.

This shearwater is 43–51 cm in length with a 105–122 cm wingspan. It is identifiable by its size, dark upperparts, and underparts white except for a brown belly patch and dark shoulder markings. It has a black cap, black bill, and a white "horseshoe" on the base of the tail. The stiff flight, like a large Manx shearwater, is also distinctive. The only other large shearwater in its range is the all-dark sooty shearwater.

The great shearwater feeds on fish and squid, which it catches from the surface or by plunge-diving. It readily follows fishing boats, where it indulges in noisy squabbles. This is a gregarious species, which can be seen in large numbers from ships or appropriate headlands. They have a piercing eeyah cry usually given when resting in groups on the water.

References[edit]

  • Austin, Jeremy J. (1996): Molecular Phylogenetics of Puffinus Shearwaters: Preliminary Evidence from Mitochondrial Cytochrome b Gene Sequences. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 6(1): 77–88. doi:10.1006/mpev.1996.0060 (HTML abstract)
  • Austin, Jeremy J.; Bretagnolle, Vincent & Pasquet, Eric (2004): A global molecular phylogeny of the small Puffinus shearwaters and implications for systematics of the Little-Audubon's Shearwater complex. Auk 121(3): 847–864. DOI: 10.1642/0004-8038(2004)121[0847:AGMPOT]2.0.CO;2 HTML abstract
  • Bull, John L.; Farrand, John Jr.; Rayfield, Susan & National Audubon Society (1977): The Audubon Society field guide to North American birds, Eastern Region. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. ISBN 0-394-41405-5
  • Harrison, Peter (1987): Seabirds of the world : a photographic guide. Princeton University Press, Princeton. ISBN 0-691-01551-1
  • Heidrich, Petra; Amengual, José F. & Wink, Michael (1998): Phylogenetic relationships in Mediterranean and North Atlantic shearwaters (Aves: Procellariidae) based on nucleotide sequences of mtDNA. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 26(2): 145–170. doi:10.1016/S0305-1978(97)00085-9 PDF fulltext
  • Penhallurick, John & Wink, Michael (2004): Analysis of the taxonomy and nomenclature of the Procellariformes based on complete nucleotide sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene. Emu 104(2): 125-147. doi:10.1071/MU01060 (HTML abstract)
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Formerly known as Greater Shearwater (e.g. AOU 1983, 1998), but name modified to conform to general worldwide usage (AOU 2010).

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