Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Dolphins, Red Wine & Irish hospitality!

Thanks Cliff for another good survey trip on the 'Stena Europe' across Murphy's channel! I've missed being at sea on my home patch! Great to meet Dave again too and as you say a damn good spotter (maybe I should try the Guinness next time!).
I've downloaded onto my 'flickr' account my photos of the common dolphins just before the little blighters disappeared behind the bow of the ship I know they look the size of salmon but take my word for it they 'are' dolphins! I took a photo of the black guillemots ('Tysties') in Fishguard harbour from the bridge deck of the ferry too, aren't they lovely, yes I know I'm soft but these are truly stunning birds.

Mustn't forget the birds we saw on the survey too which were numerous auks (razorbills, guillemots) gannets, kittiwakes, fulmar, common gull, diver species, and on the Irish side a few black guillemots in Rosslare harbour and hooded crow and shelduck from the ferry.

I feel I need to enlarge a bit on what Cliff said about me sharing a cabin with the 'legend' Mark Carwardine. I have just returned from a boat trip to Baja California and the 'Sea of Cortez' with a group led by Mark who was a truly outstanding and inspirational leader. This was my 2nd visit to this magical place. Mark has no doubts about it being the 'best' all round whale watching destination in the World and to prove it I can declare that on our 11 days at sea we encountered no less than 14 species of cetaceans which included a sighting of the very rare Pygmy or 'Peruvian' beaked whale which was only officially recognized as a new species in 1991. Mark was one of the first people to see a 'live' animal. Other cetacean species we saw included the mighty blue whale, Fin whale, sperm whale, humpback whale, Bryde's whale, dwarf Sperm whale, and of course we interacted with the famous 'friendly' Gray whales in San Ignacio lagoon in Mexico. With regard to dolphin species we saw pilot whales, Risso's, bottlenose, long & short beaked common dolphin, Pacific white-sided dolphin. We also visited a breeding 'rookery' of Northern Elephant seals we saw Guadeloupe and Californian sea-lions with whom we 'cavorted' (snorkelled). One yearling Calif sea-lion with sharp teeth and a whiskered snout nuzzled my face mask! On top of that there were the shark sp. mobula rays, colourful reef fishes, ocean sunfish as well as a host of birds.
This is one trip you should put on your list of places to visit.

I hope you don't mind Cliff but here is the link to Mark's website just to give him a plug. He is certainly one of Britain's 'true' and genuine conservationists and deserves to be applauded.

One story I feel must tell you about the trip is that we were cruising down the Pacific ocean and a few miles offshore of the Baja peninsula when we came across a young humpback whale which had a considerable amount of nylon fishing net entangled around its tail stock and both flukes (no doubt one of the vast amount of 'ghost nets' which circulate around our oceans) the skipper of the boat Mike Keating hatched a plan to attempt to free it of this unwanted 'garbage' and so he launched one of the boats 'skiffs' which had two members of his crew and Mark Carwardine on board they made valiant attempts to free it of the netting using a knife and boat hook as the animal surfaced for air and they had some degree of success sadly though we had to leave the whale to its fate which left us all rather subdued and despondent but alas on our return home we received an e-mail from Rachel Ashton (Mark's PA) that a message had been relayed to the boat skipper by a chap called Michael Fishbach, who is a marine expert, that he had come across the same whale the day following our encounter with it and he had successfully freed it of 'all' the net entanglement. The humpback whale which he described as a young female 'celebrated' by 'breaching' and to quote his words 'maybe to say goodbye, maybe something else'! What a great happy ending to this tale. I hope you don't me sharing it with you.