Southern Australia Yachting Adventure
April 8, 2010 — April 11, 2010
Spotlighting Antarctic Prions over a remote seamount in dead calm seas, whilst watching dozens of big luminous invertebrates drift by as bright as childs' glow sticks; looking down on the 4m-wide tail flukes of a Sei Whale, beating powerfully upwards, driving its 15m body just below the surface; battling a main sail against sudden gale force winds; and seeing over 200 Gould's Petrels as well as an assortment of other rarely seen seabirds, including Wandering Albatrosses, Subantarctic Little Shearwaters and Broad-billed Prions.
These are just some of the experiences on the latest Blizzard Expeditions pelagic deep into the Southern Ocean.
Here's what Tracy Anne Cuin had to say: "That was one of the most excellent experiences ever! I learned so much and saw so many birds I haven't seen before, including many I have wanted to see. Have never been sailing before and have never been seasick either. It was brilliant."
Thanks to all those who came and made it a very enjoyable experience: Simon Mustoe, Bill Moorhead, Jack Moorhead, Tracey Cuin, Michael Hansen, Bill Wakefield, Else Wakefield, Grant Penrhyn, Alexandra Ferguson and Bob Way. Thanks also to our Captain David Pryce and Frederique 'Fred' Olivier.
Sightings were dominated by GOULD'S PETRELS, with 78 in all seen, along with some more LITTLE SHEARWATERS. A large pod of COMMON DOLPHINS was seen which contained a number of STRIPED DOLPHINS as well.
That evening, we finally reached the seamount and the sun set red over a calm sea. After dinner, we got a spotlight out to see what was appearing from the ocean beneath. Beneath us were literally hundreds of large salps, like unicellular jellies, some arranged in sticky chains many metres long. There were also small lantern fish and strange furry, phallic objects that looked like pink paint rollers. To our surprise, these occasionally glowed a bright luminous green like a kid's glow stick. The sea was alive with flashing green lights. An ANTARCTIC PRION appeared in our spotlight and flew in, alighting on the water a few metres away and GOULD'S PETRELS flew past. There was even a moth on board the next morning, no doubt attracted by the cabin lights but still over a hundred miles offshore. Read more.
A second WESTLAND PETREL appeared and, as with the individual seen yesterday, decided to be remiss and avoid approaching the vessel. The photos, though showing the dark bill tip (also observed in the field) leave little to be desired and so are not included here.
And then, the birding highlights of the day. Not one but two BROAD-BILLED PRIONS, a species so rare in Australian waters that few have ever been recorded. It was on this trip last winter that over 500 were seen and there were doubts whether any would still be present. Along with a small flock of ANTARCTIC PRIONS on the sea was another bulkier-billed and different looking prion - a SALVIN'S PRION. All in all, a very successful day and only half way through.
Then later, just as the trip leader decided to take a well-earnt extended toilet break, there came the cry "whale blow". Literally metres from the boat, a large baleen whale surfaced. For the next half an hour, we sailed slowly at a constant heading and these two SEI WHALES remained ahead of us. Oily-looking patches of water ahead were tell-tale signs of the driving upbeat of the creatures' tails as they powered ahead and then, unexpectedly, the tail appeared literally metres from our bow. Hanging over the bowsprit, this 4m wide fin beat up and down so we slowed, the animal moved forward and surfaced. This was the most incredible encounter with an animal so rarely seen and the last of the great whales to face persecution from hunters. And so, those of us who should have been, were not so upset to learn that as we were watchng these amazing animals, those at the back of the vessel saw a lone BLACK-BELLIED STORM PETREL drift by.
As if that wasn't enough, as we headed north, we were treated to a brief encounter with a mixed group of Long-finned Pilot Whales and massive Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphins. They were frenetically feeding, falling out the back of the swell. The group was so tight-packed it was any wonder they were not colliding with each other. Presumably, they were hunting a shoal of fish beneath.
Then, almost as fast as this came, it went again. The sun came out and we continued onward, past the fluted rocks of south Bruny Island. By that afternoon, we were again sunning ourselves on the decks, gathering views of COMMON DIVING-PETRELS and hearing the conspicuous "waark" of LITTLE PENGUINS.