After the great excitement last Friday when we had our first ever Fin Whale off Sydney, we were absolutely amazed to find two Sei Whales about 5NM off Sydney Heads with one of them breaching and giving great views and photo opportunities. (See Raja's great shots on her website at ).On the way back in the afternoon, we encountered another (or maybe one of the same two) Sei Whale, so there may have even been three individuals of a species not previously recorded from the Halicat. There were also a couple of notable birds seen but both were frustratingly far away and not everyone on board saw them. A distant Buller's Shearwater was an early arrival for the summer season but was seen at distance and continued to fly away. A cookilaria petrel was similarly seen at some distance and continued to fly away from the boat. Raja miraculously managed to get a couple of shots of this bird (see her website) and, after a lot of subsequent discussion and research after the trip, the consensus is that it is a Cook's Petrel despite the apparent large dark leading edge and the apparent long tail in one of the shots. A total of nineteen species was recorded for the day which is a better-than-average tally for November

Surface water temperatures were still quite cold for the time of year being generally in the range of 18.0 to 18.5degC but with some narrow warmer bands where the water temperature got up to 19.5degC. We departed from Rose Bay ferry wharf at 7.15am and returned at 4.40pm, the later than normal return caused by watching the Sei Whale on the way home. Sea conditions in the morning were quite choppy with a small swell but with a north east chop of up to two metres which made travelling out a little uncomfortable. The wind started off at about 15 knots from the north east and dropped a little during the day to around 10 knots from the east. The weather was quite cloudy in the morning which gave a good quality flat light and the sun appeared around lunchtime to produce a fine afternoon


We headed out of the harbour with a complement of 20 on board, comprising a few overseas visitors and a good number of local birders. Although David started berleying before leaving the harbour, the birds showed little interest in our offerings and we were unable to get a critical mass of shearwaters following the boat out to the continental shelf. There were plenty of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters evident as we left the heads and set course for Brown's Mountain but the first excitement came about 4 - 5NM from the heads when we were approached by a small pod of Common Dolphins and then, a Rorqual whale was seen on the surface with a slender, fairly erect dorsal fin and a low blow. After watching the whale for a while, it was positively identified as a Sei Whale and we then realised that there was a second Sei Whale present which was distinguishable from the first by its damaged dorsal fin. This second whale breached twice and the very good views which were obtained and photographed confirmed the identification. As we continued through the inshore zone, small groups of Short-tailed Shearwaters were seen passing through to the south and two Fluttering Shearwaters, a Sooty Shearwater, a couple of Flesh-footed Shearwaters and a Pomarine Jaeger kept interest levels high. As we entered the Abysmal Plain, bird numbers fell off rapidly but a juvenile Black-browed Albatross, a juvenile Australasian Gannet, a couple more Pomarine Jaegers and an Arctic Jaeger were added to the count and good-sized parties of Short-tailed Shearwaters continued to pass by

As we approached Brown's Mountain, a distant Buller's Shearwater was picked up by Dion but was seen by very few others on the boat as it disappeared into the distance. Good views of a passing Hutton's Shearwater were had by most of those on board. When we reached Brown's Mountain, there were very few birds evident but a good slick was put out by the Burleymeister and the birds began to arrive in some numbers. Both Great-winged Petrel (all gouldii) and Providence Petrels came in to the slick as did two Wandering Albatross (both gibsoni), Shy Albatross, a superb adult Campbell Island Albatross and a couple of Wilson's Storm-Petrels. After a long drift, we motored back up the slick for a second drift and this is when the distant cookilaria petrel was picked up by Rob Hynson and seen by most people on board albeit at some great distance. The initial diagnosis on the boat was that it was probably a Black-winged Petrel but subsequent examination of Raja's photographs raised doubts about this diagnosis and subsequent discussions have settled on Cook's Petrel as the correct ID

We left Brown's and motored to the north east and were delighted to come across a pod of about 25 pilot whales which approached the Halicat in a very relaxed manner and allowed close examination of their pectoral fins by those with polaroid glasses, showing them to be Short-finned Pilot Whales. On the way back, no new species were seen although a few more Fluttering Shearwaters put in an appearance. About five miles off the heads, we came upon an enormous feeding flock of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters obviously following predatory feeding fish (probably tuna) below and, in amongst these birds was a whale which again turned out to be a Sei Whale which may or may not have been one of the individuals that we saw on the way out. We were also joined by a large pod of more than 100 Short-beaked Common Dolphins which produced a great spectacle to complete another great day on the water. Amazingly, no Humpback Whales were recorded on the day!


(Note that the numbers in parentheses represent the maximum number of that species in view at one time)

Great-winged Petrel 20 (6)
Providence Petrel 10 (2)
Sooty Shearwater 3 (1)
Short-tailed Shearwater 1500 (400)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 2000 (1500)
Flesh-footed Shearwater 6 (1)
Fluttering Shearwater 4 (2)
Hutton's Shearwater 3 (1)
Wandering Albatross 2 (2) both gibsoni
Black-browed Albatross 4 (2) one impavida
Shy Albatross 8 (6)
Wilson's Storm-Petrel 3 (1)
Australasian Gannet 2 (1)
Arctic Jaeger 1 (1)
Pomarine Jaeger 6 (2)
Silver Gull 80 (20)
Crested Tern 3 (1)


SEI WHALE 2 (possibly three) Short-finned Pilot Whale 25
Short-beaked Common Dolphin 110
Flying fish 4