Shearwater Journeys’ pelagic trip out of Half Moon Bay today was nothing short of spectacular with a great show of seabirds and marine mammals. It was so overwhelming that I hardly know where to begin.
We did not see any ‘rare’ seabirds, only one out-of-season ANCIENT MURRELET in San Francisco County. We also found a few BLACK STORM-PETRELS with a handful of ASHY STORM-PETRELS (also San Francisco County). But the overall quality of the day was simply amazing.
Just outside of the harbor, we encountered the mixed flocks of SOOTY SHEARWATERS and COMMON MURRES (many dads with chicks). The shearwaters have been feeding on schooling anchovies, but also on squid recently. Feeding on squid is probably what caused them to move a bit more offshore. But the thing that amazed me about these flocks was that the shearwaters were vocalizing! Like hundreds, if not a couple thousand Sooty Shearwaters sitting on the sea were vocalizing. Although I routinely hear PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATERS vocalizing, I cannot ever recall hearing sooty shears make the sounds I heard today. Our captain killed the engines and many folks on board made recordings and video.
We headed out to the weather buoy but made many stops along the way. No boobies were on the buoy. Upon nearing the edge of the shelf we encountered sensational numbers of both HUMPBACK (63) and BLUE WHALES (26) and one FIN WHALE.
Obviously, with there was an amazing amount of food available to feed 6500 tons of whales! Hundreds of CASSIN’S and RHINOCEROS AUKLETS were present. Flocks of ARCTIC TERNS and SABINE’S GULLS were sitting on the sea. RED and RED-NECKED PHALAROPES were feeding along the edges of the Lines of Convergence. We followed one skinny line that had a one degree SST difference from one side to the other. We left most of the Sooty Shearwaters back at the nearshore, and encountered BULLER’S and PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATERS along the shelf break. BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSES were mostly spotted sitting on the sea due to a lack of wind, as were many of the NORTHERN FULMARS. Overall, jaeger numbers seemed very low, especially given the numbers of Sabine’s Gulls and terns present. However, we did encounter both PARASITIC and LONG-TAILED JAEGERS. It was non-stop birding along the shelf break.
We also saw over 80 OCEAN SUNFISH, many of them dinner plate sized, but also a few very large individuals. One BLUE SHARK was spotted. Three NORTHERN FUR SEALS, one NORTHERN ELEPHANT SEAL, STELLER’S and CALIFORNIA SEA LIONS rounded out the pinnipeds for the day. Four HARBOR PORPOISE were spotted inshore.
It was often difficult to know which direction to move the boat because we were surrounded by whales on all sides, their stinky breath wafting across the stern. We spotted chunks of bright orange-red whale poo, too! Many invertebrates were noted in the water column, including salps, pteropods, moon jellies, sea nettles and ctenophores.
Somehow this just doesn’t really capture a day with nearly non-stop marine life action. It was like being on a maritime carousel and wanting to reach out for the gold ring.
Sea conditions were excellent. Visibility was excellent. Tomorrow is expected to be the same. Other upcoming departures from Half Moon Bay include: September 15 and 16.
Living the Salt Life and SeaBirding for Science,
Shearwater Journeys, Inc.
PO Box 190
Hollister, CA 95024
Celebrating 42 Years of Seabirding with Shearwater Journeys
Siberia’s Forgotten Coast & Spoon-billed Sandpiper-2019
Galapagos Islands: 30 October - 12 November 2019