Wednesday, July 22, 2015


After the record shattering El Nino of 1982-83, Shearwater Journeys began offering offshore pelagic trips departing from Monterey to the albacore fishing grounds because fisherman had reported incredible numbers of many of specialty seabirds and marine mammals that were often associated with albacore. 

From the get-go, these trips had a holistic approach. "Holistic" has been defined as: "characterized by the comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole."More than any other pelagic trip, this trip focused on the "whole picture" — the whole ecosystem — from the tiny krill to the Pacific saury and the massive blue whales that fed on the krill, to the albacore that fed on the saury, to the surface-feeding Buller's shearwaters, to the plunge-diving Arctic terns that fed from above, to the swarms of jaegers above them — when all these parts come together in one vast ocean scene, it is simply spectacular! This is a trip not to be missed, especially this year with another, massive El Nino in progress. 
Above, Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies 1982 El Nino
Albacore (Thunnus alalunga), is al large, migratory tuna that visits the central coast of California some years, mostly during fall. This fish is built for speed with long pectoral fins. Albacore populations have shifted northward with changing oceanographic conditions. The bulk of the catch now comes from Oregon and Washington.
Above, our Captain, Tinker, and I with an ALBACORE that I caught on one of our many trips. 
Fishermen have been harvesting this fish for over 100 years. It is most often caught by trolling or pole-and-line. Sometimes, we use live bait if available, usually live anchovies. Watching the albacore chase and catch the bait is amazing! Whether trolling or using a fishing pole, once a fish is hooked, the fisherman yells, "FISH ON!" The boat will stop and the captain will assist the fisherman in bringing the fish on board where it will be stored under the seat. This is called, "having one in the box."
PACIFIC SAURY, above, is a pelagic schooling fish found in the North Pacific. Often, whole schools burst out of the ocean, indicating that an albacore is chasing them from below! Sometimes, the albacore itself will launch itself out of the water! In fishermen's terms, this is called sighting a "JUMPER."
A columnar whale blow shooting some 30 feet high is a sure sign of a BLUE WHALE! 
The largest animal that has ever lived on Earth, BLUE WHALES are observed on about 90% of our albacore trips. The tiny dorsal fin, steely-blue and freckled skin are the field marks of the very sought after blue whale. 
Flocks of SABINE'S GULLS sitting on the water are common on albacore trips. 
Pomarine, and sometimes, parasitic jaeger chase Sabine's gulls until they drop their food.
Sometimes, flocks of ARCTIC TERNS sit on the sea, too. 
Tuna fishermen call the Arctic tern, "tuna birds," indicating that albacore may be nearby.
More often, Arctic terns in are the sky, being pursued by LONG-TAILED JAEGERS.
The jaeger show can be incredible, with long-taileds topping 100 individuals. As many as 30 can be around the vessel at one time. 
We have a near 100% record of finding SOUTH POLAR SKUA on this trip!
The murrelets, tiny alcids of the sea, are the most prized birds on this trip. 
Generally, flat-calm seas are necessary to be able to spot this alcid, the size of one's hand at a distance. 
SCRIPPS'S MURRELETS, above and below. 
GUADALUPE MURRELET, below, is the rarest of the three species none of which have been found along the central coast of California recently — until the warm water showed up in 2014. So, 2015 looks very promising.
There's always a chance for a rarity on a 12 hour trip. 
Twice on albacore trips, we have found RED-TAILED TROPICBIRDS
Almost all records for this species have been more than 100, and closer to 200 miles offshore. 
The rarely observed BAIRD'S BEAKED WHALE is often seen on our albacore trips. 
Note the bulbous head and protruding "beaks" on these large toothed whales, below. 
Listen to their sound, here
Typically, we do go much further offshore on an albacore trip than the standard Monterey trip. But, there are times when offshore reports from the fishermen might indicate that going offshore is like heading into a giant dead zone. Once such year this happened, and I elected to go north to the many canyons located off Davenport. 
That was a historic day: OCTOBER 14, 2006. 
At the crack of dawn, leader David Vander Plyum spotted a STREAKED SHEARWATER! 
This mega-rare shearwater is usually found in nearshore waters off Japan! 
A GREAT SHEARWATER, above, was soon spotted as well! This shearwater occurs in the Atlantic Ocean!
By day's end, we had once again SET A WORLD RECORD for the HIGH COUNT OF SHEARWATERS SEEN IN ONE DAY!
Shearwater Journeys also set a world record of eight species of shearwaters on October 1, 1994. 
And, it was a different set of eight shearwaters on each trip!
In 2009, record numbers of COOK'S PETRELS showed up near a canyon south of Monterey. Incredibly, we found them on many trips that stayed out beyond the regular hours. 
HAWAIIAN PETREL, below, is still a good contender for any offshore trip, although nearly all of the Hawaiian petrels I've seen have been within 10 miles of shore, sometimes much closer. 

During an El Nino, it is possible for just about anything to show up.
WEDGE-TAILED SHEARWATER, above, has been seen from shore in Southern California this year. WEDGE-RUMPED STORM-PETREL (2 mist netted at the Farallon Islands this year), BULWER'S PETREL (found on a late July Shearwater Journeys' trip after El Nino), and maybe even WAVED ALBATROSS (2 sight records by good observers, neither confirmed)  could show up this year — who knows?
A surprise BROWN BOOBY fly by our September 13, 2014 albacore trip. 
The massive body of a BLUE WHALE, above, showing the splash guards and blowholes. 
Rarely seen, blue whale tail flukes.

Our typical Monterey seabird trips depart at 7 a.m. and return at 3 p.m. 
The albacore trip departs at 5:30 a.m. and returns at 5:30 p.m. 
If you could only do one Monterey seabird trip, do this one!

SEPTEMBER 12, 2015

Special thanks to the photographers: Dave Pereksta, Todd McGrath, Beth Hamel, Bryan Hix, Scott Terrill, and Dave Pavlik. Please do not use images without permission. 

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