Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Albatrosses

During my recent dive-trip to South Africa I was lucky enough to get way south of Cape Point whilst looking for makos, blues and tuna to free-dive with. Sadly the pelagic fish didn't come up with the goods but the rest of South Africa's wildlife more than made up for what we missed. Cape fur seals approached the boat as we passed the legendary Seak Island and a solitary Southern Right Whale broke the waves in the distance. As we passed Cape Point and headed down to Bellow's Rock we watched Cape Gannets drop from the sky in unison like arrows into the baitballs below but it was only once the point had disappeared from view that the pelagics really appeared. Drifts of little strom petrels skimmed low across the waves. White-chinned petrols with buoyant bodies floated overhead (I just finished Kenn Kaufman's excellent Kingbird Highway and he describes a few seabirds as "buoyant" - I think its the perfect word for these chaps, something about their bodies and movement reminds me of an inflatable toy but now I'm rambling).

Once we were sufficiently far out to see though we began to see the albatrosses; black-browed, shy and yellow-nosed, gliding on wide wings accross the back of the boat. There is a phenomenal grace about these birds that distinguishes them from other pelagics - they seem to float like angels over the waves, dipping and riding the currents and then with a sudden dip of their wings accelerating past the boat with no discernable effort.

I could've watched them coast alongside all day as we motored out to the current line where the two oceans mixed, but then we arrived and it was time to start baiting the water to try to draw up the sharks. As our guides dropped sardines over the side one of the albatrosses dropped from the sky and sat off the bow with what looked a little like a smirk on its face eating our sardines. I guess in the natural world, even the angels have to eat.

2 comments:

Darren said...

Spectacular- One day, I will see an Albatross- many thanks for keeping the dream alive. I really enjoy your writing- thanks!

Clare said...

Love the albastross. Such grace and understated power. They live such fascinating lives, and seem to be able to see the wind.