Blog on ocean conditions along the Newport Line and the northern CA Current.
We really could not ask for better observation conditions for seabird and mammal surveys up on the flying bridge. We have been mostly observing species that are typical for breeding season off the Oregon coast, with a handful of sightings of common loons, which usually have migrated north by this time of year. The winds have been calm and the seas mostly glassy since we left Newport. These conditions mean we can be confident that we are detecting the vast majority of the birds that come into our 300 m survey quadrant - but it also means that not many birds are up and flying. In fact, the abundance of birds detected on our survey is notably lower than in previous years. Instead, we are seeing quite a few humpback whales (at least 90 sightings). Similar to the 2015 cruise, there were concentrations of humpback whales along the Brookings and Gold Beach lines. Although not in quite the numbers we observed last year, there were some impressively close sightings. Along the Bandon line, we passed right through the middle of a pod of feeding humpbacks, and everyone on the flying bridge was treated to close up views of them surfacing and diving.
Many pelagic seabirds, such as albatrosses, rely on strong winds to fly using a flight style called dynamic soaring. Birds use very little energy while dynamic soaring, instead of flapping, they take advantage of the wind and waves to propel them. When there is no wind, they have to flap their long narrow wings much more often and flying is therefore a much more energetically costly endeavor. We are seeing some general across-shelf patterns in seabird presence, with storm-petrels present and active on the outer shelf during the morning hours. Observations along our mid-shelf transit are mostly of black-footed albatrosses and pink-footed and sooty shearwaters, while nearer to shore we are primarily seeing common murres and gulls.
Because there are a variety of different projects happening on this cruise we are getting the opportunity to re-sample some of the same transects within a few hours. We are excited to explore the spatial and temporal persistence of the seabird and mammal aggregations we are observing. We have been enjoying the calm weather, and were hopeful that we might see some interesting pelagic seabirds as we crossed over Heceta Bank, a well-known seabird hotspot. Alas, the Heceta line and the Newport line were some of the slowest days for bird activity.
As we move north of Newport, the birding picked up - along with the wind. For the first time on this cruise, we lost an afternoon of surveying because the wind conditions but were able to begin surveying again this morning as we returned toward shore on the Lincoln City line. We were rewarded with the most exciting bird of the trip! After passing behind a factory trawler, the FV Island Enterprise, we spotted a Brown Booby flying north following the fishing vessel. Brown Boobies are an unusual, but not unheard of, sighting off the Oregon coast and are a sure sign of warm water conditions.