Port Stephens Pelagic Trip Report Ė Sun 24th March 2013
Boat: M.V.Argonaut, skippered by Ray Horsefield
Even calmer than the day before, the combined sea and swell today was negligible, owing to the almost complete lack of wind. At one point we were motoring across a glassy sea that looked like a millpond at dawn.
The avian highlight was a Bullerís Shearwater seen inshore in the late afternoon, but the overall highlights went to the Cetaceans, with Pygmy Killer Whales and a pod of very likely Sei Whales that we encountered only a few miles from the heads on the way back in. Despite some zig-zagging to get views they remained somewhat elusive, though some on board got reasonably good views.
Departed Nelson Bay Public Wharf at 0700 returning at 1705.
The forecast was for even calmer seas than yesterday and those of us doing the double-header kept reminding ourselves ďitís a different day at seaĒ as we motored out into the flat ocean again. A couple of trawlers a few miles out had attending flocks of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters but on this occasion we couldnít entice any to join us for the journey to the shelf. In fact, apart from an occasional Fleshy-footed Shearwater flying alongside, there wasnít a single bird join us for the outward leg.
Once at the shelf break (32 48.990 / 152 39.396) we cut the engines to an empty and silent sea. Eventually a few brown birds came in and we soon had some attendant Wedge-tailed and Fleshy-footed Shearwaters. Then one of the most worn Wilsonís Storm-petrels Iíve ever seen arrived in the slick Ė its flight feathers seemingly reduced to almost shafts only. A few more joined in, along with the occasional Fluttering and Huttonís Shearwater. A pod of Pygmy Killer Whales came quite close to the boat, allowing us to get images of the white lips.
It was an identical situation to yesterday from this point on (except we didn't have a godwit fly-by!) and for the 2nd day running and a total of nearly 5 hours at the shelf we did not see a petrel of any sort. So again, we decided our chances of finding something different might lie inshore. Literally as the engine started up our first Pomarine Jaeger arrived.
Thiswas to be a good decision as we added Short-tailed and Sooty Shearwaters along with the best bird of the day in a very worn Bullerís Shearwater. The bird wasas brown above as a Wedge-tailed and the thought did cross my mind before calling it as a Bullerís that it couldíve been a pale Wedgie. This was our 7th Shearwater for the day and brought some respectability to the dayís tally.
Closer in we came across some whales throwing out very large blows. Dave Mitford urged us to turn around and investigate further and this was another good decision as it became evident that we were looking at a rare species. These animals were huge and the likely ID was soon narrowed down to the Fin / Sei / Brydes group of rorquals. Based on the blow, dorsal fin and the fact that they dived without arching their backs and showing tail flukes it was later decided that the most likely candidate was that they were Sei Whales (though we cannot discount the possibility that more than one species was involved). The weekend ended in great style after going very slowly for so long.
Total (maximum number visible from the boat at one time)
Wilsonís Storm-petrel: 14 (11)
Fluttering Shearwater: 5 (2)
Huttonís Shearwater: 3 (1)
Fluttering-type Shearwater: 10
Wedge-tailed Shearwater: 600 (500)
Bullerís Shearwater: 1
Flesh-footed Shearwater: 40 (15)
Short-tailed Shearwater: 3 (1)
Sooty Shearwater: 2 (1)
Australasian Gannet: 8 (2)
Crested Tern: 7 (4)
Arctic Jaeger: 1
Pomarine Jaeger: 5 (3)
Silver Gull: 4 (4)
Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin: 10
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: 6
Pygmy Killer Whale: c.10
Sei Whale: ? 4+