Report prepared by: P.J. Milburn.
Departed: Saturday 17th October at 21:30 and returned at 18:45 on Monday 19th October.
Sea conditions: Southerly 2.0 to 2.5 m sea on Saturday night and at first on Sunday. Variable 0.5 to 1.0 m for the remainder of the voyage.
Swell: 2.0 to 3.0 m SE at first on Sunday and less than 1.0 ESE on Monday.
Weather: 11.3 to 16.5°C with clear skies on Sunday and 13.0 to 17.1°C with patchy cloud at first, clearing later on Monday.
Barometric pressure: 1023 HPa on Saturday evening rising to 1027 HPa by Sunday morning and falling slowly to 1025.3 by Monday afternoon.
Wind: SE to S to 15 to 20 knots at first decreasing to 10 knots easterly by mid morning on Sunday. Variable breezes from the southeasterly quarter from 5 to 10 knots for the remainder of the cruise.
Sea surface temperature: 18.0 to 19.8°C.
Primary chumming locations: S 36° 30’ – E 150° 30’, S 37° 50’ – E 150° 30’ and
S 35° 41’ - E150° 37’.
A high-pressure system was moving out of the Great Australian Bight over southeastern Australia. The winds were from the south as the high-pressure system approached and eased by midday Sunday.
A warm water core was located south of Ulladulla outside cool water flowing north over the continental shelf. We planned to travel to the southern limits of the warm water and spend the first day looking for cold water species returning north over the second night to look for species that favour warmer water.
Departing after dinner, we swung around Warden Head into a modest southerly sea. Some found this uncomfortable while others found benefit from the soporific motion.
We began the log at 05:45 EDT on Sunday morning, although prior to this flocks of Short-tailed Shearwaters migrating south were readily identified by silhouette alone. Rugged up against the cool southerly we soon began to appreciate the comfort benefits of pelagic birding from a larger vessel as we punched into the choppy sea. Seabirds were all around us as the light came up. It was well before 06:00 that we had recorded the first rarities of the trip, 2 COMMON DIVING PETRELS, which were seen close along the starboard side. Petrels were present in numbers and searching through them, Solander’s, GREAT-WINGED, Grey-faced, WHITE-HEADED and WHITE-CHINNED Petrels were logged before breakfast. Among the Shy Albatross were solitary Black-browed, Campbell, Indic Yellow-nosed and a magnificent 1st year SOUTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS. We encountered several small groups of Fairy Prion and also White-fronted Terns. Short-tailed Shearwaters were heading south continuously in small groups but other shearwaters were so scarce that they were the objects of some excitement! Singles of Fluttering, Hutton’s, and Wedge-tailed Shearwater were entered into the log. At 07:00 EDT we pulled up and turned to head slowly north with the sea behind us in the interests of enjoying a comfortable breakfast. At this point we were 30 nautical miles east of Bermagui, with nearly 1000 fathoms of ocean beneath us and a surface temperature of 18°C. We had seen no fewrer than 17 species of procellariiformes in a little over an hour! We started to berley while breakfast was being prepared and over the next 2 hours attracted 3 gorgeous adult BULLER’S ALBATROSS, a White-faced and a Wilson’s Storm-Petrel. There still terns around and Common and Crested Tern were added to the species list.
By the time we resumed our cruise southwards bird activity had declined significantly so we were hopeful of finding more activity at the southern edge of the warmer water. As we headed into ever-deeper waters, Shy Albatross dominated the seascape and among then were several more Campbell and Black-browed Albatross. Petrels and shearwaters were all but absent and the atmosphere was truly sedate when 3 SOUTHERN BOTTLE-NOSED WHALES surfaced in succession to our starboard. This is an event so rare that I doubted I would ever experience it personally! The water temperature had increased suddenly to 19.5°C and bird activity also followed suit with sightings of 2 SOFT-PLUMAGED PETRELS, another WHITE-CHINNED PETREL, a Sooty Shearwater, more BULLER’S ALBATROSS and an ARCTIC TERN. In the water were a Southern Sunfish, Skipjack Tuna, large pods of the cold-water form of Short-beaked Common Dolphin and literally hundreds of jellyfish.
At 14:15 we had reached the most southerly point of our intended journey, the wind had dropped and the water temperature had warmed to 19.8°C. It so happened that there had been some trawlers working in the area and as they left we attempted to attract the birds away from them by setting up a drift-and-berley session. This seemed like a forlorn hope but suddenly over a hundred albatrosses took to the air and alighted next to our vessel. Among the omnipresent Shy Albatross were 2 first year White-capped and several more BULLER’S ALBATROSS. A New Zealand Cape Petrel was the first for the trip, another 3 WHITE-CHINNED PETRELS were eagerly received by the gallery of photographers at the stern and small numbers of Fairy Prion and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels also joined us. On the negative side of the ledger, diomedea albatross were conspicuously absent. Jellyfish numbers had increased from hundreds to thousands.
Birds were sparse as we began heading northeast and an unusual visitor to the vessel was a Grey Fantail! The water was murky with a greenish tinge, indicating that we were at the edge of the warm water core. The density of jellyfish increased until we were cruising through tangled masses of them. Clearly there was nothing much here for foraging seabirds. After 20 nautical miles we started to reach clearer water and, ahead of us, we spotted a pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphin (the warm water form this time). Sure enough, just before sunset we reached the northern edge of the eddy current that had sucked in millions of jellyfish and here were seabirds aplenty. As the dinner bell rang we came upon a male Gibson’s Albatross, LITTLE and BULLER’S SHEARWATER and a BLACK-BELLIED STORM-PETREL. We closed the log at 19:15 EDT as darkness closed in and over dinner we reflected upon a brilliant day at sea.
Overnight we had a gentle cruise north, backing a hunch that the warm water due east of Ulladulla would bring us a different set of seabirds to those encountered further south. Monday morning was overcast and in the gentle sea conditions several Gibson’s and Shy Albatross joined us early. We also attracted New Zealand Cape, Grey-faced, WHITE-HEADED and WHITE-CHINNED PETREL to our berley trail and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels appeared in small groups. We decided to relocate to deeper water and set up another drift-and-berley session over breakfast. As we started the second drift of the day we saw a large Mako Shark, which is always a thrill! We were obviously outside the domain of the shearwaters and saw some nice birds over the next two hours but overall things were pretty quiet. Birds did not seem to be finding us so we decided to try and find them.
As luck would have it, as soon as we were under way again a COOK’S PETREL appeared on the starboard side, crossed under the bow and flew down the port side. The images obtained confirmed the identification for those with a healthy degree of initial skepticism. Sightings of WHITE-FACED STORM-PETREL became more frequent but little else changed. Just before lunchtime the characteristic blow of a surfacing Sperm Whale appeared below the horizon. One turned into two, then several and once we had lost way we were surrounded by Sperm Whales. Just as one group sounded another surfaced! It was an amazing experience drifting with the whales and it was interesting to see that some Solander’s Petrels were intently following these magnificent animals.
Once we were under way again we began to see more fish, initially some Frigate Mackerel and then some Southern Sunfish, including an absolutely huge one. We were cruising right along the interface between the warm blue water and the cooler murky inshore water and there were shearwaters and gannets all around us. A Smooth Hammerhead Shark was sighted along the port side and in trying to see it some of us at the stern were lucky enough to have a clear view of a BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALE only metres away.
Typical offshore seabird species, shearwaters, gannets, terns and eventually even a Silver Gull, dominated the final leg of our voyage. In the water were more Short-beaked Common Dolphins (warm water form) and a couple of New Zealand Fur–Seal. Closer inshore we were treated to the spectacle of numerous breaching Humpback Whales and 2 Inshore Bottlenose Dolphins. Sooty Oystercatchers and Eastern Reef Egrets were the last birds entered into the log before we entered Ulladulla harbour once more at 18:45 EDT.
Once again, no Jeagers were recorded in over 26 hours of pelagic observation at a point in the calendar when one might reasonably expect them to be numerous in these waters.
The COMMON DIVING-PETRELS were both the first species entered into the log and the first for the Ulladulla long-range pelagic trip. WHITE-HEADED and WHITE-CHINNED PETRELS were recorded on both days; GREAT-WINGED and SOFT-PLUMAGED PETREL on day one; and COOK’S PETREL on day two. In total five (six if one splits Grey-faced and Great-winged Petrel) species of pterodroma were a huge thrill for the petrel enthusiasts. A SOUTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS led a cast of 8 species of albatross that included no fewer than 8 BULLER’S ALBATROSS, which was supported by 7 species of shearwaters and 3 species of storm-petrel. The cetacean sightings were nothing short of unbelievable, including SOUTHERN BOTTLE-NOSED WHALES, BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALE and numerous SPERM WHALES!
Birds recorded according to the latest Environment Australia Reporting Schedule:
EA code Species name 18.10.09 19.10.09
085 COMMON DIVING-PETREL Pelecanoides urinatrix 2 (2) 0
937 NORTHERN GIANT-PETREL Macronectes halli 1 2 (1)
080 New Zealand Cape Petrel D. capense australe 1 3 (2)
075 GREAT-WINGED PETREL Pterodroma macroptera 7 (2) 0
075 Grey-faced Petrel P. gouldi 25 (3) 61 (8)
077 WHITE-HEADED PETREL P. lessonii 2 (1) 1
971 Solander’s Petrel P. solandri 2 (1) 6 (3)
076 SOFT-PLUMAGED PETREL P. mollis 2 (2) 0
918 COOK’S PETREL P. cookii 0 1
083 Fairy Prion Pachyptila turtur 31 (5) 0
915 WHITE-CHINNED PETREL Procellaria aequinoctialis 4 (2) 1
067 LITTLE SHEARWATER Puffinus assimilis 1 0
068 Fluttering Shearwater P. gavia 3 (1) 2 (2)
913 Hutton’s Shearwater P. huttoni 1 9 (3)
069 Wedge-tailed Shearwater P. pacificus 3 (1) 8 (2)
070 Sooty Shearwater P. griseus 1 1
071 Short-tailed Shearwater P. tenuirostris 263 (65) 499 (171)
975 BULLER’S SHEARWATER P. bulleri 1 0
847 Gibson’s Albatross Diomedea gibsoni 1 9 (2)
973 SOUTHERN ROYAL ALBATROSS D. epomophora 1 0
088 Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophrys 3 (1) 0
859 Campbell Albatross T. impavida 13 (3) 5 (2)
931 BULLER’S ALBATROSS T. bulleri 8 (3) 0
091 Shy Albatross T. cauta 307 (111) 108 (26)
861 White-capped Albatross T. steadi 2 (2) 1
089 Indic Yellow-nosed Albatross T. carteri 1 1
063 Wilson’s Storm-Petrel Oceanites oceanicus 2 (1) 22 (10)
065 WHITE-FACED STORM-PETREL Pelagodroma m. dulcae 3 (1) 26 (2)
066 BLACK-BELLIED STORM-PETREL Fregetta tropica 1 0
104 Australasian Gannet Morus serrator 5 (2) 248(123)
125 Silver Gull Larus novaehollandiae 0 1
114 White-fronted Tern Sterna striata 12 (3) 0
115 Crested Tern S. bergii 14 (4) 5 (2)
953 Common Tern S. hirundo 10 (2) 0
952 ARCTIC TERN S. paradisaea 1 0
29 species of procellariiformes in a total of 35 species of seabird identified.
191 Eastern Reef Egret Ardea sacra 2 (2)
131 Sooty Oystercatcher Haematopus fuliginosus 2 (2)
361 Grey Fantail Rhipidura fuliginosa 1
Species name 18.10.09 19.10.09
New Zealand Fur–Seal Arctocephalus forsteri 0 2 (1)
Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae 0 13 (5)
Sperm Whale Physeter macrocephalus 0 57+ (35+)
SOUTHERN BOTTLE-NOSED WHALE Hyperoodon planifrons 3 (3) 0
BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALE Mesoplodon densirostris 0 1
Inshore Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops aduncus 0 2
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis (cold water) 155+ (100+) 0
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis (warm water) 7 (7) 17 (17)
Shortfin Mako Shark Isurus oxyrhinchus 0 1
Smooth Hammerhead Shark Sphyrna zygaena 0 1
Frigate Mackerel Auxis thazard 0 35+ (35+)
Skipjack Tuna Katsuwonus pelamis 20+ 0
Southern Sunfish Mola ramsayi 1 4 (3)