A Day for Dolphins and an evening for birds
Sarah Wilcox, Anton van Helden and Stefanie Rixecker have just set off on a trip with Heritage Expeditions to the Kermadecs. Tune in to our blog for daily updates from their trip.
The morning we left Raoul was one of mixed feelings, so many remarkable experiences and sights in one fleeting visit. An escort of red-tailed tropic birds and masked boobies guided us away from the Meyer islands and down the Eastern side of Raoul. But just at that moment a fin is seen, and as all of us at the bow tune our gaze in on the waters directly in front of the boat a large dark shape comes into view. My excitement grows as I recognise it as a false-killer whale. An eruption of cameras clicking and whirring capture some stunning images of this sleek animal breaching and cruising around the front of the boat. A new species record for the region. It is no surprise that they would be here but it is nice to be able to say that the species is recorded here with certainty. Although I had previously seen this species in captivity it is the first time that I have seen it in the wild, and such a fantastic view I had of it too. So often seeing cetacean s at sea can be so fleeting. This set us up for a good day.
We were heading down to Macauley Island with the intention of arriving there around dusk. The twitchers/birders on board hoping to see the tiny Kermadec storm petrel. That breeds on Hazzard Island, just off from Macauley.
About an hour passes when there is again sudden excitement as the call of dolphins rings out around the boat. Everybody is surprised at the small size of these bottlenose dolphins, animals that are perhaps no more than two metres long, certainly smaller than the animals we had seen around Raoul and those south of l’Esperance rock.
Small bottlenose dolphins have been reported from here before, however when scientists came up to try and get biopsy samples for genetic identification the only animals that were seen were the large animals. The photos of these smaller animals may at least be a prompt for further investigation.
Raoul Island disappeared from view and the birders took up their vigil at the bow, with binoculars and the giant lenses of their cameras poised to snap records for their bird lists. Black winged and White necked petrels were our companions through most of the day.
Flying squid and flying fish, two species of each were observed flitting across the surface away from the ship.
Nearing Macauley Island with the sun getting lower first a whale is seen, no one gets a good enough view for an identification. Then as if we were the circus that had come to town, there were dolphins like excited children leaping towards the boat at one point I counted 18 animals riding around the bow, with others counting similar numbers around the sides of the ships. Once again these were not large bottlenose, I would have picked the largest animals to be about 2.5m in length. They stayed with us until it was almost dark. During this flurry of excitement the birders let up a whoop, the Kermadec storm petrel had been seen, in fact they saw 6 or 7 of the little birds doing there little hop and skip across the water’s surface.
With fading light the cliffs of Macauley Island giving it the appearance of some kind of impenetrable fortress, albeit an impenetrable fortress with something like a neatly mowed bowling green on top. Goats were removed from this island some time ago, but vegetation has not much recovered. The spectacle however was over the sea, thousands of birds circling and wheeling, some whipping along millimetres from the surface of the waves, others forming a towering tornado like cloud right up into the dark of the sky.
I don’t believe any photo could do this sight justice. The waters of the Kermadec region support all these birds that range far and wide across this incredible ocean space. That this region is largely pristine and supports such life reminds us what our world can and should look like. Protecting these places is vital, it is our duty.