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Pelagic Trip Reports

1 July 09 Pelagic

After boarding Obsession, now based in Hout Bay, we ventured offshore in search of a trawler. The sea was flat we had a very gentle swell, hardly noticeable and a slight chop on the water. Capt. Dave was at the wheel, skippering his 321 pelagic trip.

We picked up two trawlers on Obsession’s radar and found the first trawler 32 nautical miles out of Hout Bay.  As usual we were there for the net pull and had great views of the pelagic birds in a feeding frenzy only meters in front of us. Everyone had a great trip.

Our species checklist:

Shy albatross (200) Black browed albatross (40),  Atlantic yellownosed albatross (1), Northern giant petrel (3),  Southern giant petrel (2),  White chinned petrel (300), Sooty shearwater (100), Antartic prion (35), Gannets (500), Skua (15), Pintado petrel (30), Wilsons storm petrel (100), Cape Gulls (50), Common tern (30)

White Back Magic

Many thanks to Jan Kube for mailing me these amazing shots from our last Pelagic trip! Enjoy. The trip report follows below. Capt. Dave


16 August 2008

Five passengers boarded the new “Obsession” out of Hout Bay on Saturday 16 August skippered by Dave Christie and guided by Dalton Gibbs. The boat was virtually brand new and equipped with a great radar navigation system that would help in our quest to find trawlers. A cold front had just by the Cape and a light south-easterly wind was blowing.

There was some in-shore swell as we headed out and the boat was soon drenched in spray as we set out for the deep water. In shore Cape gannet, swift tern, Cape gull and Hartlaub’s gull accompanied us even though these birds had to contend with a head wind. By the time we reached beyond the Kommetjie and Duiker Points, we had seen our first white-chinned petrel which kept up with us as we moved out at 20 knots. Soon a sooty shearwater appeared followed by a lone shy albatross some way off.

By 10 nautical miles out Dave the skipper quickly slacked off on the engines as we suddenly came across a huge sunfish. These are the largest of the bony fish in the ocean, and its size was apparent from its pectoral fin that appeared above the water in our wake. With the aid of the navigational radar, we soon located a trawler, the “Vera Marine” out of Cape Town. We headed out toward her, on the way coming across a school of common dolphins that played around the back of the boat for a while. A small group of African penguin also appeared in the ocean, displaying just how far out these birds travel to catch fish.

We found our first black-browed albatross, an adult, just before the trawler, as well as pintado petrel and Wilson’s storm petrels that started to appear in small numbers.
At the boat the scene was fairly quiet, with a hundred or so of shy and black-browed albatross, swift terns, Cape gull and pintado petrels in attendance, waiting for the nets to be lifted and fish processing to start. Cape fur seals were soon evident, shadowing the boat and waiting for an easy picking when the net surfaced. A dozen or so sub-Antarctic skuas were in attendance, ready to dive on the any food that may appear.

A southern giant petrel gave a fly over of our boat, giving a good display of the bill colour to distinguish the species. A second trawler, the Andromeda, passed close by us, drawing behind it a mixed flock of the various pelagic species.

We stayed with the Vera Marine until 10:30 when the nets were hauled in and fish offal was discharged. By this stage several hundred of shy and black-browed albatross were behind the trawler, showing all the different age class stages. Travelling behind the trawler we had ample opportunity to check the identification of birds as they made their way past us. Apart from numerous swift terns that were out there, a single small tern stayed close to our boat for a while, showing enough features for it to be identified as a common tern.

After half an hour or so Dave yelled from behind his new fancy glass wheel house window and those of us on the front bow locked onto where he was frantically pointing. Taking off from the water was a very large albatross that dwarfed the birds around it. We quickly got onto the birds patterning and it proved to be a sub-adult wandering albatross with developing wing patches.
No sooner had the “wheehee” and “yahoo” cries of satisfaction ended, when someone called out that the bird was on the water up ahead. We watched as this large bird rose from the water on the left hand side of the boat close past us, only this time the wing patterning showed that is was a northern royal albatross.

From the range this huge bird flew past us, the photographers on board were shuffling backwards to fit the bird into the picture and Jan Kube got some excellent photos. A single northern giant petrel made a brief fly over and disappeared into a feeding group of birds.

We worked hard a sorting through albatross for the yellow-nosed species, and soon found what turned out to be another wandering albatross. This bird flew and then repeatedly landed on the water, allowing for excellent views. It turned out to a different individual and younger than the first bird we had seen. To top this, another northern royal albatross was found on the water, allowing close views. This bird also appeared to be a different individual and the cameras clicked away.

We continued our search for yellow-nosed albatross, but unfortunately in the afternoon we had to head for shore as a southern wind had started to pick up.
Upon entering Hout Bay, we made a turn past the local seal colony, finding bank, crowned, cape and white-breasted cormorants on the rocks. Cape fur seals were present in large numbers and covered the rocks like shaggy moss.

Thanks to Dave Christie our skipper for a great trip and for finding those trawlers.
On board were: Colin Smith (UK), Oscar Campbell (UK), Peter Dolton (UK), Peter Nupen (SA) and Jan Kube (Germany).

Species seen and approximate numbers:

Swift tern – coastal
Hartlaub’s gull – coastal
Cape gull – coastal
Cape cormorant – coastal
Bank cormorant – coastal
Crowned cormorant – coastal
White-breasted cormorant – coastal
Cape gannet – coastal & pelagic – 40
Northern giant petrel – 1
Southern giant petrel – 6
Sub-Antarctica skua – 50
Common tern – 1
White-chinned petrel – 2000
Sooty shearwater – 1500
Shy albatross – 1000
Black-browed albatross – 1000
Wilson’s storm-petrel – 300
Wandering albatross – 2
Northern royal albatross – 2

Dalton Gibbs

Giant Petrels inshore!

On todays charter we were very lucky to see Giant petrels just off Sandy bay in great numbers. I have never before seen so many of this species so close in, estimated number 45. We also saw several shy albatross as well as a yellow nosed albatross plus a couple of the more common inshore birds. We were treated with a school of common dolphin. Capt. Dave

1 March trip

There were calm conditions after the strong south-easter and a westerly wind that blew across Cape Town during the week.

False Bay was calm and the water near Boulder’s Beach allowed us to watch the African penguin as they prepared themselves for fishing. Groups moved out onto the rocks and we watched as several birds “porpoised” past the boat. On route to Cape Point, Cape gannet, Cape cormorant, swift tern and Cape gull were all observed. A short photo stop in the turbulent waters at Cape Point gave magnificent views of the cliffs and lines of Cape cormorant moving off to feed.

We set out for deeper water and soon encountered white-chinned petrel sweeping past the boat, with Cory’s shearwater followed shortly there after.
Pressing on to deeper water, shy albatross appeared some way off as we headed into a light south-westerly wind.

We found our first trawler for the day and quickly picked up Indian yellow-nosed albatross and black-browed albatross on the water together, both fighting over the same piece of fish. Shy albatross, particularly young birds, made up the bulk of the albatross present behind the boat. A lone sub-antarctic skua hung above thee feeding birds and swooped in to steal food, as great shearwater and sooty shearwater were both present in numbers.

Before moving to long line boats further out, we found a northern giant petrel dominating a feeding group and two Sabine’s gulls made an appearance. Cape fur seals rose behind the boat, despite us being 10 Nautical miles out to sea.

We found two long line vessels with few birds behind them as catches were not being processed. Here however we picked up parasitic jaeger, which was ready to harass birds if they found food. In the distance we made out two stern trawlers and set off for them, finding a lone hump-backed whale en route. As we arrived, the trawler “Fuschia” started to process her catch. Numbers of birds of all species quickly appeared and soon we found Wilson’s and European storm petrels which had been conspicuous of their absence up until now. Several Sabine’s gulls and northern giant petrels made up for the dearth in numbers of this species so far in the day. Parasitic jaeger appeared, keeping above the flock of feeding birds, ready to swoop down and snatch food.

After several good views of obliging Indian yellow-nosed albatross we had to turn for home, running with the swell generated by the prevailing wind.
Once back in False Bay the flat water allowed for high speeds, which quickly took us to the bank cormorant colony near Partridge Point. Here we compared numbers of Cape, white-breasted and bank cormorant in a breeding group.
Thanks to all and skipper Gwaine for a great trip and for finding those trawlers.

Species seen and approximate numbers:

Swift tern – coastal
Hartlaub’s gull – coastal
Cape gull – coastal
Cape cormorant – coastal
Bank cormorant – coastal
White-breasted cormorant – coastal
Cape gannet – coastal & pelagic – 40
Sabine’s gull – 70
Northern giant petrel – 6
Sub-Antarctica skua – 8
White-chinned petrel – 400
Sooty shearwater – 200
Cory’s shearwater – 15
Great shearwater – 20
Parasitic jaeger – 2
Shy albatross – 150
Black-browed albatross – 40
Indian yellow-nosed albatross – 5
Wilson’s storm-petrel – 30
European storm-petrel – 15

First Wanderer of 2008!

On our last pelagic trip we had the honour of enjoying spectacular views of the first Wandering Albatross spotted off the Cape Coast for 2008! I was ecstatic! The adult bird sat on the water right next to the boat for at least 2o minutes before taking off! Other sightings included good numbers of Cory’s shearwaters, European Storm petrels, sabines gulls, yellow nosed albatross, black browed albatross, shy albatross, a few great shearwaters, a manx shearwater, white chinned petrels, shooty shearwaters, terns, gulls, juvenile gannets. We were spoilt in the morning on the way out with a pod of dusky dolphins and some seals feeding on a school of pilchards, with the small bait fish jumping right out of the water in an effort to escape becoming breakfast.

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