Participants: Alan Collins (Organiser), John Graff (Organiser), Plaxy Barratt, Bill Betts, Rose Ferrell, Stewart Ford, Ross Jones, Dan Mantle, Ian Mayer, Peta Moore, Michael Morcombe, Robyn Pickering, Nathan Piesse, George Swann, Peter Taylor, Roy Teale, Peter Valentine
Conditions: Conditions were forecast to be relatively calm, with seas 1-1.5m and swell 1.5-2m. Winds were forecast easterly at 10-15 knts. Conditions were largely as forecast; if anything somewhat calmer.
We departed Emu Point Boat Harbour at approximately 0600. Activity in King George Sound was limited, but several people saw a distant Arctic Jaeger, and the first Flesh-footed Shearwaters began to appear. As we approached the heads, a small group of Common Bottlenose Dolphins was seen briefly. We cleared the heads, but little was seen aside from increasing numbers of Flesh-footed Shearwaters. Eventually, the first albatross was seen, a young Black-browed-type which may have been a Campbell Albatross, but separation of immatures ranges from difficult to impossible. This was followed by an adult Black-browed Albatross, and the first Indian Yellow-nosed and Shy Albatross followed reasonably shortly afterwards. A jaeger was then seen in the mid-distance; the buoyant, tern-like flight style indicated a Long-tailed Jaeger. A second was seen shortly afterwards, but little else was seen until we reached the shelf break.
We passed over the continental shelf edge and stopped the boat in 800m of water, and a third Long-tailed Jaeger was seen briefly making a pass over the boat by several people. Indian Yellow-nosed and Shy Albatross joined the Flesh-footed Shearwaters around the boat and the call for whales went out almost immediately, as a large pod of Pilot Whales was seen off the starboard side. Whilst initially quite distant, several groups made very close passes of the boat. Separation of Short-finned and Long-finned Pilot Whale at sea is very challenging and both could occur off Albany, though Long-finned is the more likely species. The relatively prominent pale saddle on a number of the animals is also suggestive of Long-finned. A few people also saw some more triangular dorsal fins which suggested a second cetacean species was present, which has subsequently been supported by photographs – identification has so far proved problematic though. The first White-faced Storm-Petrel made an appearance in the slick, and the species remained present in small numbers at both stops. A Short-tailed Shearwater was also spotted making a pass amongst the numerous Flesh-footed Shearwaters – this was the second record for Albany pelagics, but was not unexpected as the species breeds in large numbers on islands in the Recherche Archipelago off Esperance. Then a group of five terns were sighted off the stern. These were initially assumed to be Bridled Terns, but as they made a pass of the boat, several observers suggested that at least some of them were in fact Sooty Terns. Photographs have subsequently indicated all five individuals were Sooty Terns, a first record for Albany pelagics and quite possibly a first record for the south coast of WA. The first Wilson’s Storm-Petrel for the day was also seen, and another group of Pilot Whales also made a close pass of the boat.
|Adult Shy Albatross. The very thin dark borders to the underwing, and the ‘thumbprint’ at the base of the wings are useful features for separation from other albatross.|
After drifting for around two hours, we relocated a little deeper, stopping the boat in 900 m of water at around 1100. Whilst travelling, another Sooty Tern and another Long-tailed Jaeger were seen. We deployed the second chum block, but the species present remained similar to the previous stop until a Great-winged Petrel was finally spotted amongst the Flesh-footed Shearwaters. A few more individuals made passes throughout the stop. Several more Sooty Terns also made passes, including a pair passing high over the boat. The major interest came when the call went out for a Wandering-type Albatross. Frustratingly, it passed by distantly and did not come into the boat. The frustration increased when photos showed it to be a classic antipodensis (sensu stricto) or amsterdamensis type, with a wholly dark upperwing, dark cap and ear coverts, but largely pale body. Photos even suggest a dark bill tip, so it is very disappointing the bird didn’t come closer. The final sighting of note was a shark that appeared off the back of the boat – expert opinion is that the dorsal fin shape in photos indicates a Dusky Whaler.
|Dusky Whaler. In many cases, this species is not confidently separable from Bronze Whaler without dentition details, but in more extreme cases fin shape can apparently allow for separation. Photo courtesy Dan Mantle.|
We set off for home shortly before 1400. The return trip was largely uneventful, with nothing new seen, though we did pass a small flock of eight White-faced Storm-Petrels. Two Arctic Jaegers gave good views in King George Sound, and a few Australasian Gannets were also seen. We docked at approximately 1630. Many thanks as always to all the participants, and to Tony and Fred from Spinners Charters for their assistance.
Species List (Total count [Maximum seen at one time])
Wandering Albatross sp. 1 (1) – antipodensis (sensu stricto) or amsterdamensis
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross 18 (6)
Black-browed Albatross 1 (1)
Black-browed Albatross [sp.] 1 (1)
Shy Albatross 10 (3)
Great-winged Petrel 6 (1)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 300 (60)
Short-tailed Shearwater 1 (1)
Wilsons Storm-Petrel 9 (6)
White-faced Storm-Petrel 20 (8)
Arctic Jaeger 3 (2)
Long-tailed Jaeger 6 (1)
Caspian Tern 1 (1)
Crested Tern 5 (2)
Sooty Tern 10 (5)
Australasian Gannet 4 (2)
Pilot Whale 60+ (50+) – probable Long-finned Pilot Whale
unidentified cetaceans 5+ (5) – possibly False Killer Whales
Common Bottlenose Dolphin 4 (4)
Dusky Whaler 1 (1)