Ocean Wings News
Albatross Encounter Update December 2011
Welcome to the Albatross Encounter® update for December 2011.
We have seen a huge diversity of oceanic birds this month with unusual species this month including Cook's petrel, mottled petrel, Wilson’s storm petrel, white-faced storm petrel and grey-backed storm petrel. Other more commonly sighted species include flesh-footed shearwaters, Buller’s and black-browed albatross. There was a sighting of an unusual species that temporarily created some excitement surrounding a species of prion, but it turned out that it was a fairy prion with a slight plumage variation. To see what was sighted this month click on our sightings page.
We’ve seen a few species this month that we see more during the winter months including the black-browed albatross, Buller’s albatross and southern giant petrel. Although these are species that are not commonly sighted here at this time of year, their presence could be due to the large swarms of postlarval squat lobsters which have been seen in enormous “red tides” throughout the our ocean this month. They provide a significant food source for a variety of marine life including fish, seabirds and baleen whales.
Three species of storm petrel have been sighted this month, although these sightings have occurred on the longer 4 hour bird tours. Storm petrels are the smallest of all seabirds and are pelagic being found throughout all the world’s oceans. The grey-backed storm petrel is the smallest of all the storm petrels, whilst the Wilson’s storm petrels are one of the most abundant bird species in the world. Due to research difficulties arising from their strictly pelagic nature their diet is poorly known although it is believed that they feed on zooplankton and crustaceans.
On several tours, there has been a surprisingly distinct lack of cape petrels, with no obvious reason for their absence. It would never be known if there was a large trawler located further offshore stealing their attention or whether this was a typical seasonal trend that hasn’t been noticed before. Other petrel species observed included the grey-faced, Cook's and mottled petrels. The Cook's and mottled petrels are part of the gadfly family and are infrequent visitors to Kaikoura. They breed only in New Zealand and are highly pelagic feeding on squid, fish and some crustacean.
We have had incidental sightings of other marine life whilst out on our tours including a leopard seal that was sighted on the beach from our birdwatching boat. Leopard seals are the second largest seal in Antarctica growing up to 3.5m and are a rare visitor to Kaikoura.
Also, as the water begins to warm up, we are starting to see several shark species including the blue and mako sharks. These sharks venture close to the boat picking up the smell of fish oil emanating from the chum basket and are not impressed when the chum is located within a plastic basket. The albatross too are unimpressed by the presence of these sharks, typically pecking at them as they swim by.
The heaviest bony fish in the world, the sunfish or Mola mola can sometimes be seen. Weighing up to 1,000kg, they can be found swimming at depths of 600m, however can be frequently sighted basking on the surface with their dorsal fin sticking out of the water which alerts us to their presence.
We’ve had several sightings of our banded Gibson’s wandering albatross Red 73E this month. He’s been sighted several times sporting his geolocator. We are hoping that the researchers will be able to retrieve his geolocator when he returns to the breeding grounds down in the Auckland Islands this month. It will be interesting if they are able to determine just where he forages in between his sporadic trips to Kaikoura, some gaps lasting up to 4 months at a time. Towards the end of the month we also had sightings of a banded northern royal albatross, so we will endeavour to find out where the bird was banded.
So, that’s all our news for the year of 2011, happy birding throughout 2012.
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