A wildlife photographer and blogger, I spend my free time finding and photographing wildlife in different parts of the world. Check out my blog at www.thewildlifediaries.com
Published June 30th 2015
Giant birds and dwarf whales
Fifteen nautical miles off the coast of Sydney the world's largest seabird, the Wandering albatross, soars effortlessly on thermal updrafts, skimming the surface of the ocean with the tips of its incredibly long wings. It appears totally content in its utter solitude in the vast expanse of water and sky.
It is a warm sunny morning and I am heading out into the open ocean with Halicat's Pelagic & Nature Watching Tours. On the way we see a pod of Humpback Whales on their northerly migration. These 40-ton giants are fun to watch as they slap their tails and pectoral fins on the surface of the water or propel their enormous bodies into the air in spectacular breaches.
But Humpback whales are not the only creatures that can be seen out on the ocean. To those willing to look a little harder and to go a little further, the sea reveals an abundance of spectacular wildlife. Halicat's tours go out as far as 50 kilometres into the open ocean towards a small submarine mountain known as Brown's mountain by the local fishing enthusiasts. The mountain sits on the edge of the continental shelf surrounded by deep, nutrient-rich water.
Here the chances of spotting different species of marine mammals are much higher. Dwarf Minke Whales, Pygmy Killer Whales, Common and Bottlenose dolphins and Australian and New Zealand fur seals are just some of the 'sea monsters' as the crew refers to them, that I have encountered on Halicat's tours.
The birdlife of the pelagic zone is just as spectacular. The king of the sky above the open ocean is the Wondering Albatross. This bird has the largest wingspan of any living bird, reaching 3.1 meters on average. As a result it is capable of remaining in the air for hours without flapping its wings. In fact, it spends most of its life in flight, landing only to breed and to feed.
To attract the birds, the crew sets up a trail of fish offal behind the boat and as we silently drift on the gentle swells the birds start to arrive. A Black-browed Albatross lands near the boat stirring a fair bit of excitement on board. Not as large as its Wondering cousin, it is still a majestic bird. An impressive Southern Giant Petrel makes a couple of passes over the boat as a flock of Wilson's Storm Petrels arrive for a free lunch. In the distance Providence and Great-winged Petrels race against the bright blue sky. The open sea is so full of life.