Despite some apprehensions about a northerly wind, two boats left from Simon’s Town harbour on a Capetownpelagics.com trip on Friday, 2 November. Although there were some differences between the boats for final trip lists, we are reporting all the sightings as one report. The trip to Cape Point was uneventful, but once we got a few miles out we came across some cetacean activity. First up was a probably Bryde’s whale, although it disappeared too fast for a definitive ID. Then a couple of Atlantic common dolphins put in a very brief appearance. We picked up a few Arctic skuas/parasitic jaegers amongst the terns, gannets, gulls, sooty shearwaters and white-chinned petrels. Juvenile Shy albatrosses and the odd great shearwater were also present, but still no signs of the Cory’s shearwaters reported early in October.
The ameliorating conditions predicted failed to materialise, and instead we found ourselves in a worsening sea, fortunately without significant swell. The skippers had received details of the location of a trawler, which was 30 nm from the point and right on the edge of our range. As we closed in on the trawler we saw it was busy processing its catch and, as expected, had attracted a good number of birds. The only species seen at the ship and not en route were black-browed albatross, northern giant petrels and pintado petrels. Unfortunately it was trawling away from home, and as we were already 30 nm off the point, we couldn’t keep with it for long. We turned and steamed rather comfortably back towards Simon's Town.
On the way home both boats picked up a pomarine skua, but the water was incredibly cold near the point – below 11 C, and there was a spectacular highlight in store. We stopped to bird around a loose aggregation of terns and gannets, when two small and odd-looking dolphins were observed incoming. They broke the surface alongside and the triangular fins, small size and beautiful patterning revealed them to be HEAVISIDE'S DOLPHINS! These are relatively rare, Benguela-system endemics and to the best of our knowledge have never been seen on a pelagic trip out of Simon’s Town before. They stayed with us for several minutes, playing around the boat as we cruised slowly homewards. Eventually a small group of dusky dolphins joined the boat, which seemed end the Heavisides’ visit. We took a slightly different route home, hugging the cliffs and enjoying the spectacular peninsula scenery, especially the roosting and nesting Cape cormorants, and finishing off with a stopover at the bank cormorant nests.