9 September 2015 Report


After more than twenty years of going out on Sydney pelagic trips, I never cease to be amazed at what they can sometimes throw up in surprises. On Saturday, after being out for most of the day in gorgeous spring sunshine and benign conditions, everyone on board was resigned to the fact that this was one of our quietest days on the water with hardly any birds or cetaceans around. And then, as we were about to set course back to Sydney, we came across a group of eight SPERM WHALES which remained on the surface and allowed excellent views and, shortly afterwards, we encountered a pod of about 40STRIPED DOLPHINS, a very uncommon cetacean off Sydney and one which we hadn't seen for many years. Throw in an epic encounter with a Yellowfin Tuna (more of that later) and a forgettable day suddenly became a day which all the participants will remember.

Weather conditions had been quite settled for a couple of weeks prior to this trip and the birds had obviously had plenty of opportunity to feed because none of them showed the slightest interest in the boat or our berley, not even the Silver Gulls. Highlights of the trip were one Antarctic Prion, two White-fronted Terns and a single Antipodean Albatross (race gibsoni).We departed the Heads at about 7.50am in bright sunshine, very slight seas of less than a metre and water temperatures up to 19.8degC.Winds were very light and variable all day and sea conditions became even flatter around lunchtime. We motored out to the underwater sea mount known as Brown's Mountain approximately 22.5NM ESE of the Heads, arriving there at about 10.30am and we then drifted and set up a berley trail and slick. With hardly any birds around, we headed eastwards into deeper water and, after extensive delays due to the hook up of a big Yellowfin Tuna and then encounters with the Sperm Whales and Striped dolphins, we headed back towards Sydney at about 1.45pm and arrived at Rose Bay at 4.40pm.


We set off from Rose Bay at 7.30am with 22 passengers on the MV Avalon comprising mostly local birders but also visitors from the USA and Switzerland. As we left the Heads in stunning weather conditions but with hardly a bird to be seen, I had a bad feeling about the day, particularly as not even the gulls would come near the boat for the berley on offer. In the first hour or so, the only birds seen were the occasional passing Wedge-tailed Shearwater, one or two Australasian Gannets and the odd Hutton's Shearwater. Those sitting at the front of the boat saw a couple of groups of Fluttering-type shearwaters passing by distantly but too far to be called as to species. Even a Humpback Whale which was seen blowing not far away disappeared and failed to materialise when we drifted close to where it had been spotted. A pair of Little Penguins were seen by some on the boat and then, in a current line, we found two White-fronted Terns which did not give great views as they continued to move away from the approaching boat. Some interest was stirred up by the discovery of an Australian Fur Seal which was tending a ball of redfish and allowed a close approach as he/she was absorbed by keeping the fish ball in place. A distant Shy Albatross was our first albatross of the day but continued on its way without approaching the boat and another Humpback was spotted which gave marginally better views than the one seen earlier. Around the fishing boats at the Twelve Mile we came across a Brown Skua sitting on the water and it allowed a close approach for the photographers on board.

When we arrived at Brown's Mountain there was only the odd Providence Petrel occasionally in view and, after 30 minutes of berleying with nothing coming to the slick, we started the motors and headed off slowly into deeper water. A prion put in a very brief and unsatisfactory appearance but photographs showed it to be an Antarctic Prion and shortly afterwards we saw our only wandering-type albatross off the day, an Antipodean Albatross (gibson's ssp), but again, it did not approach the boat and continued on its way. We were visited by a large pod of maybe 200 Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphins, many of which came for a ride on our bow giving splendid views to all. As we continued eastwards and with nothing happening on the avian front, some tuna were spotted on the surface nearby and the crew decided to troll a couple of lures off the back of the boat. One of these was hit almost immediately and Eddy was fast into a very large Yellowfin Tuna which he proceeded to battle with for the best part of two hours. In the meantime, we continued to see the occasional Providence Petrel, a couple of Fairy Prions and our first Yellow-nosed and Black-browed Albatross of the day. At about 1.15pm and with no end in sight to the battle with the tuna, discussions were held as to what we do to get going back to Sydney in a reasonable time frame. George came up with a very innovative solution by calling a friend of his who was fishing nearby to come alongside and take the rod with fish attached and to continue to battle it on our behalf! As we came through the Heads later on at 4.30pm, the news came from the radio that the fish had been boated and weighed 40kg but there was an ongoing discussion about ownership of such a prize!

Having freed ourselves of the fish, we were about to set off home when some interesting whale blows were seen which, on approach, turned out to be a group of eight Sperm Whales resting on the surface. We had great views of these magnificent creatures which showed no interest or shyness of our presence and after many photographs, we reluctantly tore ourselves away to start the return journey to Sydney. Almost immediately afterwards, we encountered a pod of small beaked dolphins which we thought would be Short-beaked Common Dolphins but these animals behaved in a very unusual manner being very shy, even a little fearful, of the boat. Also, their markings did not look right for common dolphins and, after some photographs were examined, it became clear that they were in fact Striped Dolphins, a very rare visitor to waters off NSW. The rest of the trip back was very quiet with no new bird species and with the visit of two Short-beaked Common Dolphins becoming the fifth cetacean species of the day. With only 15 bird species for the day, many of them not well seen, it could have been quite disappointing, but the experiences with the Sperm Whales, Striped Dolphins and the saga of the tuna made it a day that will be talked about in future years. Thanks for the images attached go to Greg McLachlan (Striped Dolphin 2 and Brown Skua), Steve Hey (Australian Fur Seal and Sperm Whale 2), Jenny Stiles (Providence Petrel) and Nigel Miller (Striped Dolphin).


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

Little Penguin2(2)
Antipodean Albatross (ssp gibsoni)1(1)
Black-browed Albatross2(1)
Shy Albatross2(1)
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross3(2)
Antarctic Prion 1(1)
Fairy Prion3(2)
Providence Petrel10(4)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater35(6)
Fluttering-type shearwater60(30)
Hutton's Shearwater5(2)
Australasian Gannet16(3)
Silver Gull30(10)
Greater Crested Tern5(2)
White-fronted Tern2(2)
Brown Skua1(1)


Humpback Whale3
Oceanic Bottlenose Dolphin200
Short-beaked Common Dolphin2
Fur Seal sp.1

The next Sydney trip is scheduled for Saturday 10 October 2015 and, at the time of writing this, the trip is full. Please let me know if you would like to go on the waiting list.

If you are interested in pelagic trips, all details of dates and contact details for making bookings are in the Sydney Pelagics website at http://www.sydneypelagics.info and you can also find details on Facebook and post photos at https://www.facebook.com/sydneypelagics

Australian Fur Seal - Stephen Hey

Sperm Whale - Stephen Hey

Striped Dolphin - Nigel Miller

Providence Petrel - Jenny Stiles

Brown Skua - Greg McLachlan

Striped Dolphin - Greg McLachlan