My apologies for sending to various groups all at one time. But, this Saturday we did our first offshore pelagic of the season, from Half Moon Bay (San Mateo County). We have been doing trips to the Farallon Islands, but those have a limited time in deeper water, so I thought folks would be interested in knowing what is out there in the central CA offshore waters now. In short, it is pretty interesting and diverse with element suggesting this will be a warm water year with elements of the south moving north, and it is a season that is amazingly abundant as far as ocean productivity goes. We saw four species of storm-petrels, with groups of Ashy, and a scattering of Fork-tailed, Wilson’s, and Black storm-petrels. The Black are always of interest to us, since they do not always make it to our latitude, being dependent on what the conditions are like farther to the south. The weather was choppy, with a flatter ocean we would likely have found more and larger flocks of storm petrels. Where we found them, the water was warmer and more translucent, offshore water. We did find all three jaegers, as well as South Polar Skua which was early. There are good densities of Cassin’s Auklets out there, we found a gorgeous adult Tufted Puffin as well as the more expected alcids including Marbled Murrelets at the coast. Good numbers of Black-footed Albatross and nice densities of Pink-footed and Sooty shearwaters, earlier in the season Buller’s showed up (again early). Sabine’s Gulls are heading south, including our first juvenile of the season. Right now tens of thousands of Sooty Shearwaters are close to the beach in Half Moon Bay, this is a year with lots of anchovy, lots of krill and also squid. Abundance is the word. There is so much krill out there that the Cassin’s Auklets are trying to pull off a second brood due to the abundance of food. Meanwhile the Rhinoceros Auklets are feeding on 100% anchovy.
The real oddity in the region has been the arrival of Bluefin tuna off Monterey, and Half Moon Bay. Big ones, averaging over 150 lbs each. This is not the norm, but is super exciting as it suggests northward movement of southern critters. Similarly, we had a good look at a Guadalupe Fur Seal offshore a little known marine mammal that seems to be found in warm water years. Warm offshore water has been peeking close to Monterey Bay recently. The combination of potential for some warm water birds offshore, and lots and lots of food closer to shore is great! We have consistently found awesome feeding congregations of Humpback Whales about 10 miles offshore. On this last trip we also found Fin Whale where the Cassin’s Auklets were (krill feeding we assume), and a super pod of hundreds and hundreds of Pacific White-sided Dolphins with a good number of the always dapper Northern Right Whale Dolphin. Blue Whale has been seen this year, but not this last weekend.
It is early in the season and it is already pretty awesome offshore. I think this is going to be a great year for pelagics, and unfortunately not that many people are going to be able to enjoy it. We have a full schedule of trips out of Monterey and Half Moon Bay, Morro Bay is sold out, but are going with half or less of the boat capacity. On the trips we are encouraging people to be outside, in the breeze, social distance and to wear masks. As such, on the various trips we have done people have felt comfortable and safe. Key is to consider that the science clarifies that being outside, in the breeze, and in humid and salty air is a low risk situation. Crew are diligently disinfecting the boat, and ample sanitizer is available. One of the net benefits is a lot more room on the boats this year, and in Monterey keep in mind that the boats are much larger allowing for good spacing of birders and naturalists. Particularly this year, being out on the ocean is special, with nature abounding and away from the news, it is invigorating and good for the soul!
Our next trip is an offshore Monterey trip on Aug 14, we are hoping to get into the real deep waters on this day and see if we can find some offshore murrelets and other goodies. The upcoming Farallon island trips are sold out. Our schedule of trips is here:
See you at sea!