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.



 Out Past the Continental Shelf  Day 2, north of the Cascade Seamount
We had been forced to heave to over night, so had drifted about 20 miles northwest of our position the night before. So we began the second day with about 4 hours to go to reach the Cascade Seamount to the south. Weather conditions began beautfiully calm and dropped off to about 5 knots by the end of the day.

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.
 At the Cascade Seamount
The weather continued to be gloriously calm and the sun came out, so it was a very pleasurable experience for everyone. The change in habitat was immediately obvious as we approached the seamount, when current lines began to appear, along with ANTARCTIC PRIONS and GREY-BACKED STORM PETRELS. This turned out to be another bumper day for GOULD'S PETRELS, breaking the record again, with 116 seen in one day.

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.

Read more.
 The return past Bruny Island
The final day was again a contrast to all the others. Up at dawn, we were making reasonable time, tacking in a westerly direction with a brisk northwesterly wind. There were a few seabirds about as we passed the contintental shelf then, under full sail, we were hit with a tremendous southwesterly change. The wind built to 35 knots in just a few seconds, swung 180 degrees and the boat was keeled over as we fought to bring down the main sail. The Tasman Island lighthouse disappeared in the thick cloud and rain began to lash down. One person saw a GREY PETREL fly past at the height of all the commotion.

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.
Read more.

Wildlife

Whales, Dolphins & Seals 5 species
Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) 550 A widespread group, some converging to bow-ride; Three pods were seen in reasonably quick succession near the mouth of the D'Entrecasteaux Channel
Long-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala melas) 100 A mixed pod with Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphins, frenetically feeding.
Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) 50 A mixed pod with Long-finned Pilot Whales, frenetically feeding.
Striped Dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) 3 This might be a conservative estimate. They remained some distance from the vessel.
Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis) 2 2 adults and 2 smaller animals were presumed to be calves but could have been Pygmy Right Whales. The latter was never confirmed.
Seabirds 39 species
Short-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus tenuirostris) 721
Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae) 500
Great-winged Petrel (Pterodroma macroptera) 425
Gould's Petrel (Pterodroma leucoptera) 203
Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) 177
Wilson's Storm Petrel (Oceanites oceanicus) 114
Fairy Prion (Pachyptila turtur) 105
Common Diving Petrel (Pelecanoides urinatrix) 101
Buller's Albatross (Thalassarche bulleri) 88
Black-faced Cormorant (Phalacrocorax fuscescens) 75
Antarctic Prion (Pachyptila desolata) 69
Grey-backed Storm Petrel (Garrodia nereis) 65
Campbell Albatross (Thalassarche impavida) 43
White-faced Storm Petrel (Pelagodroma marina) 37
Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta) 28 Most appeared to be NZ White-capped (steadi); Most appeared to be NZ White-capped (steadi)
White-headed Petrel (Pterodroma lessonii) 27
Little Shearwater (Puffinus assimilis) 16
Providence Petrel (Pterodroma solandri) 11
White-chinned Petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis) 7
Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus) 6
Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche chlororhynchos) 6
Pacific Gull (Larus pacificus) 5
Brown Skua (Stercorarius antarcticus) 4
Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor) 3
Australasian Gannet (Morus serrator) 3
Broad-billed Prion (Pachyptila vittata) 2
Little Pied Cormorant (Microcarbo melanoleucos) 2 On the wharf entering Constitution Dock
Westland Petrel (Procellaria westlandica) 2
Northern Giant Petrel (Macronectes halli) 2
Fluttering Shearwater (Puffinus gavia) 1
Salvin's Albatross (Thalassarche salvini) 1
Black-bellied Storm Petrel (Fregetta tropica) 1
Northern Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi) 1
Blue Petrel (Halobaena caerulea) 1
White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata) 1
Buller's Shearwater (Puffinus bulleri) 1
Southern Royal Albatross (Diomedea epomophora) 1
Grey Petrel (Procellaria cinerea) 1
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) 1

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Written by

Simon Mustoe

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