Ocean Wings News
Albatross Encounter Update January 2011
Welcome to the first Albatross Encounter update for 2011! We hope that you had a fun and safe Christmas and New Years. We had a great year in 2010 with many highlights and are looking forward to another great year in 2011.
This month we had 29 days of operation culminating in many highly memorable encounters with a variety of pelagic and coastal birds, as well as some other interesting inhabitants of the Kaikoura eco-system.
Special points of interest and species this month include, La Nina, long-line by-catch, Antipodean wandering albatross, and blue shark.
The summer of 2010/2011 has seen the effects of the La Nina weather phenomenon. This has caused stable anti-cyclones and water to come down from the equatorial zone towards New Zealand, the extent of which has not occurred since 1975. The warmer than usual water temperatures have affected the diversity and abundance of marine life throughout the country.
During El Nino years the water temperature is cooler, and the weather systems more turbulent, which mixes up the water columns. This boosts the production of plankton which in turn stimulates the entire eco-system. Last summer we experienced El Nino and the resulting krill and salp blooms were spectacular to see. The krill provided an abundant food supply for many small fish and so on up the food chain, resulting in the high breeding success of many pelagic seabirds. This year however has seen a drop in ocean productivity resulting in lowered breeding success and starvation of many seabirds around the whole of New Zealand including penguins, petrels, shearwaters and gannets. Although this breeding season is poor, the last few years have been very good (El Nino) so the various species will persevere and insure that only the fittest individuals survive. We have not noticed any adverse effects here in Kaikoura, which may be due to the highly productive Kaikoura Canyon. The effect of La Nina on the various albatross species is uncertain due to their extended breeding period and feeding range, so it may not be felt until later in the year.
On our tours we put a frozen block of chum in the water to entice the birds to the vessel. On occasions during the summer months this chum also attracts blue sharks (Prionace glauca). These stunning fish are well named with an iridescent blue back, long pectoral fins, and pale snout. They visit Kaikoura to feed on the abundant squid and fish that inhabit this rich coastline. The blue shark, along with many shark species, is thought to be in decline to overfishing with over 10 million being caught annually! They are not considered dangerous and have been seen to flee when approached by our dusky dolphins!
Alas, we have seen yet another victim of the long-lining fishing industry on our tours recently. This time it was a northern giant petrel (Macronectes halli). This form of fishing is not practiced in the Kaikoura area, with the incident probably occurring many miles away from mainland New Zealand. This issue is a serious one driving many pelagic bird species, including albatross, to the brink of extinction. To learn more about this problem go to our Save the Albatross page.
Here in Kaikoura we regularly see wandering albatross on our tours. The predominant race seen is Gibson's (Diomedea antipodensis gibsoni), although two others are also seen on occasions. These are Antipodean (D. [a.] antipodensis) and snowy (D. exulans exulans). Distinguishing these various races can be difficult, with the female Antipodean being notoriously difficult to distinguish from a juvenile of all the races! Our skippers are happy to aid with the identification of these wanderers and all of the other bird species on our tours.
We often see interesting events on our tours and we manged to capture photos of a juvenile pied shag bringing a scorpionfish to the surface and then swallowing it. The spikes on this fish seem to prove no obstacle to the shag!
We hope that you enjoyed this update and we look forward to seeing you on our tour. Till next month, fair winds and good birding!
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