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
PELAGIC TRIP REPORT
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