Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Survey finished!

Sorry for the delay in finishing this for some reason I've been locked out of my blogger account.
The last day despite having great weather was largely uneventful. Which was disappointing as we came in along the south west coast of Ireland to dock in Castletownbere.

Two far off blows early in the day were the only thing to report cetacean wise. Aside from a group of dolphins spotted by crew at four in the morning needless to say I was asleep for this. This was made even worse when I found out that Nick Massett was chasing Humpback whales around the Blasket Islands. I could see the Blaskets off in the distance as we came along the coast but too far off to see anything.

Bird wise is was busier that other days with plenty of Gannets around all day. Fulmars , Shearwaters and lesser and greater black backed gulls were all present during the day.

Word on the ground is that there will probably be a similar trip nest year so hopefully there will be plenty more to see then. Thanks for following the blog and i hope you enjoyed it.

The Office (Paddy O'Dwyer)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Nearly Home

Today started perfectly, light winds, small swell and plenty of sunshine. No sooner had I got to the crows nest then a group of 8 pilot whales appeared just off the starboard side of the ship. There were 6 adults and 2 calves in the group. With my first sighting of the day coming so early I took it as a sign that it was going to be a busy day sightings wise. I was wrong.

With the weather almost perfect it was a pity there wasn’t more activity during the day. The birds were present in slightly higher numbers than over the past few days. A few Fulmars and Gannets circled the boat during the day. We also passed two groups of Shearwaters and a lone Great Skua which was heading east shortly after lunch.

We were to stop at the Marine Institutes M6 weather buoy to carry out some repairs just after dinner. As the M6 weather buoy is located near the shelf edge it would provide a good opportunity for sightings. As I was leaving the crows nest I could see it in the distance and then saw a few blows well off but in the same area. They disappeared as quickly as they had appeared and after 15 minutes I could no longer see them so I ran down to the mess thinking I would be back up by the time we got to the buoy. No sooner had I a plate in my hand than word came down from the bridge that they could see blows again so I went back up to the crows nest. What followed was a fantastic two hours of watching 6 Sperm whales and 2 Fin whales feeding and swimming in the area of the buoy.  It was great to spend so much time with them while the crew were carrying out the repairs. It was hard to keep track of them all as they keep disappearing in one area and then appearing off somewhere else.  We started off again once the repairs were complete and I finally got my dinner that Jimmy had kept out. Thankfully! Hopefully this was a sign of things to come as we make our way into Castletownbere tomorrow evening.

Fin Whale (Paddy O'Dwyer)

Pilot Whale (Paddy O'Dwyer)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Half way

Finally no more fog! However in its place was a gloomy grey sky and a very grey looking ocean. Conditions weren’t bad for sightings with smaller swell and lighter winds than in the past few days. We were also passing over the mid Atlantic ridge so I was hopeful that there would be plenty of sightings.

I was wrong not a single cetacean sighting all day long. The birds weren’t much better I did see a small few Fulmars and Lesser Black-backed gulls and two Gannets one in the morning and one in the evening. It was disappointing considering the area we covered that there wasn’t more activity. And moving back into deep water (about 4000m) for tomorrow things weren’t looking good.

Gannet (Paddy O'Dwyer)
Conditions today were almost perfect sunny with light winds and low swell. It was the best day for sightings so far. But it starter poorly with no sign of birds or cetaceans anywhere. This continued for most of the day with fewer birds than yesterday. There only a few Fulmars, two Lesser Black-backed Gulls and one Gannett. The highlight of the day had been a yacht that sailed past us heading west.

Yacht (Paddy O'Dwyer)

Just as I was beginning to pack up I spotted a blow ahead in the distance. I wasn’t sure if it was real or if it was my imagination after two days with no sightings. Sure enough it appeared again and was coming towards the boat. Once it got close enough I could see that it was a sperm whale. This lifted my spirits and was followed shortly after three more sperm whales all swimming slowly west. And another one that the captain Denis just called me for just as I write this.

Sperm Whale (Paddy O'Dwyer)

With the weather to be similar tomorrow hopefully there’s plenty more to be seen. We should be coming up on the Porcupine bank tomorrow evening this should present a good opportunity for more sightings as we move onto the continental shelf.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Part Deux: Return of the Observer.

I should have updated this sooner since I’ve been back on board since Saturday evening. However bad weather has lead to poor sightings and little else to report.

We left St.Johns just after 5 on Saturday evening. Having only arrived on board at 4 I only managed a few short hours of observing.  The conditions were poor with thick fog and rough seas. This resulted in no cetacean sightings. I did manage to see a few birds but most left us after we got further and further away from land. Fulmars, Gannets and a single great Skua were the sum total as far as variety goes.

The conditions Sunday morning were not much better. Rough seas and thick fog that only eased off in order to give hope that it was lifting only to return stronger shortly after. With visibility reduced to a kilometre or less for most of the day I wasn’t very hopeful of seeing anything. To my surprise I did spot two whales early on in the day and after consulting with a higher power they were confirmed as Fin whales. This was followed up shortly after by another whale which disappeared into the fog as quickly as it appeared prevent me getting an id or an image. There were plenty of Fulmars around today and a few Shearwaters but we didn’t encounter any other species. On a different note we did see an ice berg just after lunch. It was much smaller than the one we saw on the first leg but none the less still impressive.

 (Fin Whale, Paddy O'Dwyer)

After not getting much sleep Sunday night due to very big swell and high winds, I was relieved when the captain said it was too rough to go up to the crow’s nest. Instead I was able to conduct my watch from the comfort of the bridge. Given the terrible conditions all day it wasn’t a shock that I had only one cetacean sighting, a blow not far from the boat. As for the birds Fulmars made their predictable appearance along with a few gannets as well as some pomarine and great Skuas.

Conditions today were better and I was able to return to the crow’s nest to do my watch. Despite the occasional patch of fog it was a good day for sightings. There were two cetacean sightings in the form of blows. The first encounter was of two animals but they were too distant to confirm a species id. This event repeated itself with a single animal a few hours later providing plenty of blows but too far off for a proper species id. The trend of seeing less in terms of bird numbers compared with the last trip continued. Still there were four different species of birds encountered today Fulmars, Great Skuas, plenty of Longtailed Skuas and a very lonely Gannett all on its own. We will be coming up on the mid Atlantic ridge tomorrow evening so hopefully the weather is good and there will be plenty to see.   

(Longtailed Skua, Paddy O'Dwyer)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Day 9

Our last morning started well with low swell and light winds making it perfect for sightings. But we were definitely feeling the effect of the cold Labrador Current even in our flotation suits.  We were aware that Humpbacks migrate to this area in great numbers but thought  it might be a bit early yet. However Humpbacks were visible all the way to St. Johns. We didn’t see any cetaceans other than the Humpbacks. The Canadian scientists said that they were feeding on fish called caplin. It was a fantastic way to end the first leg of the trip and makes the start of the next leg look very promising.

Humpback (Enda McKeogh)

As we were quite close to the shore the numbers of birds seemed to increase drastically. We encountered 7 different species today the Glaucous gull, Herring gull, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Guillemots as well as a return from the Gannets, and for the first time on the trip Puffins.

We pulled into St. Johns just after noon to complete what was a really good trip. The weather over the whole trip was much better than we expected. This led to us having lots of sightings of cetaceans as well as birds. We will be back on the ship for the return leg starting on the 2nd of June. We will continue this blog then and hopefully we will have plenty to report.
 Humpback (Paddy O'Dwyer)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Day 8 Iceberg’s ahead.

This morning as we were going up to the crows nest we were told to keep an eye out for icebergs and growlers. Growlers are bits that have broken off the main iceberg and can be more dangerous as they are not picked up by radar. The conditions were good for spotting the icebergs with low swell and light winds making it easy to spot anything on the surface. The problem was the fact that it was very hazy and our visibility was limited to a few kilometres. Sure enough shortly after starting we got a call to say that an iceberg had been picked up on the radar. Not long after we could see it through the haze and it was big! 

 You bring the jack and coke, we'll bring the ice (Paddy O'Dwyer)

 Despite spending most of the day looking ahead of the ship we did manage to record a few sightings. On three separate occasions we spotted blows but they were too distant for a proper species id. Enda did manage to capture an image with his new shooting from the hip method of photography. I must admit that over the last few days this technique seems to be working very well. 

Numbers wise it was a quiet on the bird front today. But we still had 6 different species Kittiwake, Manx Shearwater, Pomarine Skua, Long Tailed Skua, Herring Gull and our old friends the Fulmars. 

 Long Tailed Skua (Enda McKeogh)

We should be in St. Johns shortly after midday tomorrow all going well so it will be our last day of sightings. Hopefully it will be full of cetaceans, birds and a few icebergs at a distance.

Day 7

The weather today was worse for sightings than it has been. Despite our best efforts we didn’t see and cetaceans during the day. We have been spoiled so far on the trip, so one day without sightings isn’t the end of the world. But hopefully it will be just the one day.

 After a long day of no cetacean sightings Enda wasn’t quite feeling like himself. (Steven Seagull)

In the absence of cetaceans the birds received plenty of attention which wasn’t hard considering they were following us for most of the day as the crew were fishing. This paid off with us adding a new species to our list bringing the total number of bird species encountered to 13. The new species was the Herring Gull, the other species we saw today were Long Tailed Skua, Pomarine Skua and the ever present Fulmars.  

 Long Tailed Skua (Enda McKeogh)
Hopefully tomorrow the sighting conditions will improve and we will see plenty more cetaceans and birds.