Marine Wildlife Highlights this weekend

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The weekend’s wildlife highlights were; Minke whale, many Common Dolphin and 20++ Harbour Porpoise mostly feeding a mile or so offshore with an attendant “frenzy” of seabirds! Oddly this frenzy is mostly Shearwaters – over 2000 Manx, up to 100 Great (counted from Gwennap Head), c.200 Cory’s , 50++ Sooty, and increasing numbers of Balearic Shearwaters – 5 from our Minack trip on Sunday evening. There are relatively few Gannets associating with this frenzy which implies the birds are feeding on small prey such as sand-eel or fry, fine for the Minke Whales but unusual for dolphins. A few presumed Blue-fin Tuna have been feeding in the same area and, although still not numerous, Ocean Sunfish are increasing again with 4 on Sunday.

    Seabird numbers continue to be impressive! Out of the totals mentioned above we have managed to see 3 Cory’s, 2 Great, 5 Sooty, and 5 Balearic Shearwaters amongst the 100s of Manx on the Minack trip, a few Storm Petrels are still appearing well inshore  and we saw over 20 following a returning “day-boat” on our 3pm cruise. Although not many are off towards Land’s End 100s of Gannets are still in the Bay area though lately further east off the Lizard. Auk numbers have dropped sharply as the adults are now taking newly fledged young to safety offshore. Skuas are still scarce with only a couple of Bonxies (Great Skua) harassing the shearwater flocks, and although a few Sandwich Terns and Kittiwakes are in the bay there has been little movement so far. Great Northern Divers and the mad/sad Eider drake are still with us, and small flocks of Common Scoter are still passing with over 30 this weekend. A couple of Yellow-legged Gulls are still arriving , but since the strong westerlies have set in there have been fewer Mediterranean gulls.
    The Grey Seals are slowly building in numbers on St Clement’s Island again, but we still see too many kayakers getting too close and disturbing them- 2 people even had to be taken off the island by the lifeboat apparently! Wader numbers are already building with Curlew, Whimbrel, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Dunlin, an early Purple Sandpiper and Common Sandpipers all roosting on the island so this disturbance is even less welcome!
     All in all it has been excellent for so early in the season and we even had a report of a Basking Shark from one lucky observer on the 1pm fishing trip! So even though the weather isn’t exactly scorching, the marine wildlife is certainly heating up!
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Bowhead Whale in Mounts Bay

What an incredible sight here in Cornish waters. A bowhead whale! These beautiful whales are usually found in Arctic or sub-Arctic waters, so you can imagine how dumbfounded we were to see one off Long Rock Beach! We watched in wonderment as this graceful creature surfaced and dived right in front of us, too stunned to even reach for the camera. As it started to move southwards, blowing as it went, we eventually regained our wits and tried to capture the moment. Unfortunately the photos aren’t great and most definitely do not do the moment justice, but they do prove that you never know what you might see here in Cornwall. The marine environment is changing every year and it is more than evident in the variety of species we are seeing here now.

 

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A few facts on the Bowhead whale and why this sighting is so special:-

The bowhead whale got its name from its bow-shaped skull.  It’s body is black with a whitish chin patch broken by what resembles a necklace of black spots. The bowhead is also identified by its lack of dorsal fin and two bumps which are usually visible above the water corresponding to the head and the back. The whale produces a V shaped blow from paired blowholes situated at the highest point of the head, often reaching 7m in height. We did see a few fantastic blows in the bay. The bowheads baleen is the longest of any whale at over 3m and is used to strain tiny prey from the water. The whale’s blubber is the thickest of any animal!

 

Bowhead WhaleImage From SuperCentenarian.com

The reason for the thickness of the blubber is due to it’s natural habitat of Arctic waters. They are often found close to the edge of the Arctic ice shelf.  Now we all complain of the cold in Cornwall, but the waters are definitely not Arctic! Their bow shaped head is used to break through ice up to 60cm thick. Now that’s some ice! Bowheads migrate north and south of the Arctic as the ice retreats and expands. The whales prefer bays, straits and estuaries, and are seldom found far from ice floes. That is why this was truly was a spectacular sight.

 

Bowhead-Whale_Tim-Melling-3Image by Tim Melling http://hww.ca/en/wildlife/mammals/bowhead-whale.html