6 May 2018

6 May 18 - West African Pelagic - Day Six: Back To The Deep Seas

I woke up as usual around first light & headed up for a hot drink before heading out on deck. It was a relatively calm day at sea with light winds, although the sea had more white-caps to the waves later in the day. There wasn't quite as urgent a rush to be on deck this morning. But I was still on deck around 07:00. We were around a hundred nautical miles North East of Madeira & back over the deep sea bed. The plan was to sail directly from Madeira to the Portuguese coast (which was still another day away) & then follow it North along the continental shelf edge. At least one of the previous West African Pelagic trips had headed closer to the African coast. It would have been interesting to do that as that trip did well for Sabine's Gulls & migrating Skuas. We could then have followed the continental shelf North. However, that would have taken more time & clearly time was something that we didn't have a lot to spare. Therefore, this part of the trip was explained as we were exploring this new straighter route. We would get to check out the Ampere seamount en route which didn't appear to have been visited much in the past from a wildlife perspective. This is a huge ex-volcano which rises to within sixty metres of the surface. Additionally, the hope was that we would cross the Sabine's Gulls & Skuas migration routes further North. Trying new ideas, with little information, is always a gamble. Sometimes these gambles pay off & you discover new sites that are worth revisiting. Other times it doesn't work out. On this occasion, it didn't work out. Spring 2018 was clearly an unusual year in the UK & Europe for Seabird & Passerine movements generally & perhaps it didn't work out for this reason. However, I suspect it didn't work out as the majority of migrating Seabirds migrate closer to the African coastline. We had to arrive in Holland on the morning of 12 May & with this arrival date, we didn't have many other options. One option would have reduced the time around the Canary Islands & Madeira, as well as, time to stop for Cetaceans & that wouldn't have been popular. The only other option would have been to increase the price of the trip to allow more time. But that probably wouldn't have been realistic given the Plancius was booked for a short refit, before heading up to the far more lucrative Arctic for the Summer. Seeing more Sabine's Gulls & Skuas would have been nice. However, for me it was more important to have had the time around the islands. We were now over the deep seas with a typical sea depth of around four kilometres. Having left Madeira & its islands, the only Seabirds we would expect to see would be ones heading North to breed or those generally wandering far out to sea. The deep oceans still have Cetaceans, but they are well dispersed in the open oceans where the seabed is uniformly flat.
Gannet: The first signs of a European influence to the Seabirds. I saw a couple during the day & we would see many more as we carried on North
It was a pretty quiet day for Seabirds with around fifty Cory's Shearwaters, five Sooty Shearwaters, a Manx Shearwater, a couple of Gannets, a Bonxie & an Arctic Tern. Cetaceans were equally quiet with just a few Striped Dolphins & Short-beaked Common Dolphins. Disappointingly, none of the Dolphins wanted to interact with the Plancius & views were brief & at a distance.
Striped Dolphin
I also saw a Sunfish (no photos) & an unidentified Shark during the day.
Unidentified Shark: This Shark was first picked up by its tail fin
Unidentified Shark: This Shark was first picked up by its tail fin. I can't see a long bill on it, so I think it is a Shark, rather than one of the Marlin or other Billfish species
The highlight of the day was seeing four of a dozen or so Loggerhead Turtles that passed the Plancius. Every Sea Turtle sighting at sea for me has always felt like a treat.
Loggerhead Turtle: The first individual
Loggerhead Turtle: They have five or 6 costal scutes (which are the segments along the side of the upper shell). This first individual seems to have five
Loggerhead Turtle: The first individual. They have a more arty look when they are under water
Loggerhead Turtle: A second darker individual
Loggerhead Turtle: A third individual. There are some shellfish growing on the shell of this third individual
It had been a fairly quiet day at sea. We were several days beyond the main Flying Fish areas & I had only seen the occasional Flying Fish since we left Cape Verde. The Loggerhead Turtles were easily the highlight of the trip. All the islands had been good to us & now we had to make do with some quieter days at sea. Still we had to be on deck as we never knew what might appear.