15 Apr 2018

15 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Seventeen: At Sea From Tristan Da Cunha To St Helena

One day further North & the sea temperature at first light had risen by 3 degrees to 25 degrees. The air temperature was only just lower. However, there was still a 20 knot NW wind to keep the temperature on deck a bit more bearable, providing you could keep out of the full force of the wind. It was not a day when I was going to get too excited by the Seabirds as I only saw five in the whole day: two Spectacled Petrels & singles of Great-winged Petrel, Sooty Shearwater & the first Red-billed Tropicbird of the trip.
Red-billed Tropicbird: The only Seabird photographed during the day
The Plancius's Flag: It only needs to last for another couple of weeks
This was going to be a typical day in the middle of the deep Tropical oceans. The Birders & photographers on the ship could now be separated into different categories: those who had wider wildlife interests were still just as active on deck. Many hung around on the top deck reading books, dozing & chatting, but being present should any of us active watchers find them something to walk over to the railings to look at. However, the purely hardcore Birders rarely ventured on deck for more than a few minutes & seem to find other things to do e.g. the two county recorders on the ship disappeared to write sections of their respective Bird Reports. Personally, I think the pure Birders were missing out on the bigger wildlife experience. But at least it meant the decks weren't clogged up with them moaning about the lack of Birds: but it didn't stop that happening when I went into the observation lounge (for a caffeine refill). I had switched into Cetacean & Flying Fish watching as we were starting to get into the Flying Fish zone. This kept me looking hard which would eventually pay off with bonus Birds & Cetaceans. However, this was the second day in a row when I had spent the majority of the day on deck, but I hadn't seen any Cetaceans. Around this time in the trip, I generally didn't appear on deck for long before the 08:00 breakfast call. After a few days I realised this was a mistake as often there was an early morning Cetacean sighting or two before breakfast. Today, it was a group of distant Humpback Whales that I had missed by having a lazy start. Within a few days, I had learnt my lesson & was getting out for an extra hour & a half before the breakfast call.
Rainbow: The affects of passing through a few light showers during the day
However, once on deck I was spending most of the rest of the daylight hours looking & had also started skipping lunch as that seemed to be a statistically higher time for Cetacean sightings. Missing lunch helped to keep the calorie intake more under control, apart from the number of biscuits eating in lieu of lunch. By keeping looking for Cetaceans & Flying Fish, I was well placed on the starboard bridge wing to pick up an Atlantic White Marlin that came down the starboard side about 20 metres off the side of the ship. It seemed to be around 5 - 6 foot long. Looking at the photos later I could see the elongated bill which I hadn't noticed when I was watching & photographing it. So perhaps it was another foot or more longer. The camera is remarkably good to allow me to look through it & watch my subject. With the internal magnification of the Canon 7D body, it is about 13x magnification. While it is a higher magnification that the 10x binoculars, it is obviously not as good an image. However, once I start taking pictures using the motor-wind, while the image is good enough to follow the subject, it is not possible to see any detail as the image is constantly flashing. So it is not surprising I didn't see the bill when I was watching it through the camera.
Atlantic White Marlin: When I found it I thought it was a Blue Shark given the extent of the turquoise blue colouration from the front fins
Atlantic White Marlin: When the tail fin dropped below the surface it became an eerie turquoise blue shape in the water
Atlantic White Marlin: As the waves moved above its body, it was sometimes possible to see more of the body
Atlantic White Marlin: This photo shows it clearly had a long thin bill. This long bill confirms it is one of the Billfish (i.e. Atlantic Sailfish, Atlantic White Marlin or Atlantic Blue Marlin), rather than a Blue Shark which had a typical broad Shark's head. It also shows the length of the front pectoral fin. The lack of obvious vertical pale stripes on the body makes this an Atlantic White Marlin. It was too large to be the similar looking Roundscale Spearfish, but that occurs around the Canaries & Madeira Islands, the Iberian Peninsula and the Mediterranean & we were far too far South for that species. Illustrations usually show the dorsal fin of the Billfish which runs along most of the body as up, however, I gather they often swim with the dorsal fin down
Atlantic White Marlin: This was my first & the best views of Atlantic White Marlin. I saw them on a couple of other occasions off Ascension Island & at sea off Portugal on the follow on West African Pelagic
Only a handful of us got onto this Atlantic White Marlin & it was easily the best views of this species seen on the Odyssey or subsequent West African Pelagic. Another exciting part of the overall wildlife experience that was keeping me going on these quieter days at sea.
Fishing buoy
It was depressing that we were over 600 nautical miles from the nearest land on Tristan da Cunha & St Helena and yet we saw a number of items of marine rubbish in the sea.
Remains of a fishing net: This might provide some shade & cover for small fish & potentially somewhere for sealife to lay eggs on. However, it might also ensnare a Turtle. Marijke told us to check & photograph larger floating objects as she had seen a number of Turtles feeding around them
Floating crate
Red-billed Tropicbottle
The sky became quite atmospheric during the late afternoon
Despite the threat, there wasn't a lot of rain
There clearly wasn't any chance of seeing the green flash this evening