African Odyssey Unfolds

We have just wrapped up our field work on Cape Cod working with the Massachusetts White Shark Team as the cold winds of winter start to blow and the leaves are falling. Our boats are now stored for the North American winter. Just in time to launch into our next wild adventure which will take us back to Africa for the 7th time since 2009. And believe it or not we are barely past scratching the surface in exploring this amazing continent. Our focus once again is on wild life and wild places, most of which will be new territory. We will plunge into the onset of equatorial summer on our first stop in The Seychelles with a particular interest in diving in the southwestern portion of the archipelago , a world heritage site called Aldabra Atoll. From Wikipedia we learn that, “Sir David Attenborough called the south western atoll of Aldabra “one of the wonders of the world”, and it is also known as one of “crown jewels” of the Indian Ocean. Aside from its vast population of tortoises, it is also the largest raised coral reef in the world with an elevation of 26 feet (7.9 m);  a habitat for the biggest crab, the cocunut crab; and habitat for the Indian Ocean’s Aldabra rail, the only surviving flightless bird species of its kind in the world.” We are particularly excited because Aldabra is uninhabited, extremely isolated,  and is virtually untouched by humans. Not many places in the world so fortunate. Quite ironically it has been months since we have actually been in the water so we are looking forward to being a fish again in warm clear water.

Armed with tons of camera gear for above and below the water we hope we can capture the spirit of the place. Here are some beautiful images from other explorers.

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Destination Aldabra

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Our journey will continue with a visit to Zanzibar where we will begin our first encounters in Tanzania. We are extremely excited to travel all the way west into a remote area on Lake Tanganyika where we will spend time with a wild troop of chimpanzees. This region is where Dr. Jane Goodall did her field work. We will then venture into the Serengeti for our first visit into this savannah to discover the summer activity of the great wildebeest migration. Should be pretty green as it is still part of the rainy season. This region is now being seriously threatened by Government plans to put a major paved road into the area which, according to friends, would destroy the Serengeti as we know it forever. Will hope to better understand what is happening here. Ever since I read Peter Matthiessen’s Sand Rivers, I have wanted to see this. From here we will camp (comfortably) in the Ngorogoro Crater before we re-load and proceed to our second home in Cape Town, South Africa to be with many friends and get the chance to view this beautiful country in their summer and yes we be diving with hopes of glimpses of apex predators. So pleased to be spending a warm Christmas among friends there. After several weeks in the Western Cape of South Africa we will again re-load and venture northeast to the Horn of Africa for some exploration of Djibouti on the Red Sea (back in the water) and finally we will spend nearly three weeks exploring Ethiopia, an area so rich in unique culture and fantastic wildlife I will leave the description to a later post.

We will be traveling for 9 weeks. Yikes!! But we are sure the time will pass quickly. It usually does when you are in the wild. And we will try our very best to post reports as internet access allows.

 

 

Read more.. Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Dream Team Adventure

Winter is coming to Cape Cod and the time has come to haul boats for storage until the spring. This is always a little bit sad for us. Many years ago Pam and I dreamed about spending time on a boat chasing wildlife in a wild place that was not in the middle of the Bering Sea. When at last this dream became a reality for us here on Cape Cod …we decided to call our small expedition craft Aleutian DreamIt continues to be a joy for us and this year was special as we pushed this vessel into some new challenges to support the white shark research project.

A word about the totem symbol on the bow.  This spirit symbol has been with us for more than thirty years throughout our many adventures. It is a Pacific Northwest Coast Indian (Tlingit) spirit totem called Sisioohl or as the kwakwaka’wakw refereed to it, Sisiutl.  The literal translation is “Magic Salmon”. The spirit represents some “heavy magic” and is not to be trifled with. Central to the themes of warrior, power, strength and invulnerability, the Sisioohl was a dangerous creature, capable of bringing harm or death to anyone coming upon it. In the myths it guarded the house of the sky people. For those with warrior power the Sisioohl became a great help – a drop of Sisioohl blood could cause a warrior’s skin to be impenetrable.  The spirit would come to the warrior on command and its body could act as a self prepared canoe to make the warrior invincible in war. The skin of the Sisioohl made into a belt  allowed the warrior who was wearing it to perform superhuman feats. The Sisioohl eyes could be used as sling stones and were so powerful they could even kill Whales!!

Alternatively, the glare of this three headed serpent could cause a man to die, his joints turned backward, and it could cause an enemy who looked upon it to turn to stone. Fortunately, over the years we have partnered successfully with this spirit to do some amazing things and happily we are still alive and mostly in one piece…though a few times we pushed our luck a bit. We are sure the Sisioohl was with us as we dodged breakers as we tracked white sharks on the outer Cape this year. Through our efforts in 2014, the Massachusetts Shark Research Program has increased the size of their Atlantic white shark database of identified individuals from 39 (gathered between 2009 – 2013) to an incredible 100+ with more than 61 white sharks id’d and cataloged this season by researchers Greg Skomal & John Chisholm.  And along the way we were also able to apply tracking tags to 18 of these fish to aid in the understanding of white shark annual migration patterns in the Atlantic. The work was funded through the all volunteer efforts of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. Thanks to many generous donors an incredible amount of new information about white sharks in Cape Cod waters has been collected and the learning will continue to help inform responsible public policy in our region with good science.

THE TEAM: Our vessel core crew for the past four + months supporting the Massachusetts Shark Research Program led by Greg Skomal. Good shipmates all  – with Pam King, Cynthia Wigren, Ben Wigren, Jeff Kneebone and Greg Skomal. Pictured below and critical to the work were John Chisholm and our spotter pilot Wayne Davis.  We feel  privileged to have been part of the 2014 field effort and to have worked with such a dedicated & talented team.

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John Chisholm

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Wayne Davis next to his baby “…92 Xray”

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Read more.. Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Down East at the Autumnal Equinox

We took a few days off from our work with the Massachusetts White Shark Research team to travel to Down East Maine and embrace the onset of Autumn in the New England north country. We were eager to explore a new destination in the mid coast region well known to birders especially in the fall migration. Our target was Monhegan Island , a tiny wooded rock pile about ten miles off the Maine coast. The island is well visited in the fall as it is a famous stop-over for southbound migrants that get blown off the coast in certain weather conditions. Among these visitors are various warblers, other song birds and the raptors who feast on them in these confined island habitats. The island was settled some 400 years ago by English colonists and has been home to fishing families ever since. In the early Twentieth Century a private land trust was set up by a generous benefactor to set aside most of the island as natural woodlands with maintained trails. The result is a beautifully wooded natural preserve of conifers and deciduous trees which at the fall time can harbor some exotic migrant birds who found there way to Monhegan as the last refuge before getting blown out over the Atlantic Ocean. While we were on the island we observed Merlins and Peregrine Falcons constantly in pursuit of the visiting song birds. Warbler highlights included a Cape May warbler, Nashville warbler, Black throated Green warbler, Black throated Blue warbler and many Myrtles. Pam spotted a Scarlet Tanager male and the star bird of the few days was a Yellow headed Blackbird that was way out of its range usually seen west of the Rockies… Pretty amazing sight, though no photos were acquired of this bird.

Meanwhile the islanders were busy getting lobster traps rigged for the big October 1st opening. They were very friendly and knowledgeable about the birding that was going on all around them. We were privileged to join a group of experienced birders which included ornithologist Dr. Trevor Lloyd-Evans from the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. The weather was magnificent and Monhegan is truly a magical place at this time of year and we look forward to returning!

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Nashville Warbler Fall 2014

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Raven in the lower foreground

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Monhegan Harbormaster – Shermie Stanley receives his surprise gift. The photograph is of a school of Blue-fin tuna “Giants” taken by legendary spotter pilot and photographer Wayne Davis in celebration of their time fishing together years ago.

Read more.. Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Chasing the Last Dragons

White Shark Chex off N Chatham Inlet

A large male tagged earlier in the season is called Chex (nicknamed Darth Vader by the DMF Team). He is riddled with battle scars indicating that he is likely the dominant male white shark in the Chatham/Orleans habitat this summer season. The tag is visible in this image behind the dorsal fin.

Read a recent article in National Geographic Traveler about cage diving with white sharks in the Neptune Islands in South Australia. Local eco-tour operator Andrew Fox describes the experience his guests enjoy as “Chasing the Earth’s Last Dragons”. The phrase resonated with my own feelings of awe for these ocean voyagers.

Experienced naturalists and field biologists are a joy to be with. They can truly ignite a moment in the field with insight into animal behavior by orienting field companions to the possibilities while calibrating expectations with “what to look for…and what to avoid.. A passion for the wild world just pours from these companions on hikes or longer expeditions into the wild and it can be the difference between an average experience and a special one. We have learned that there is absolutely no substitute for an experienced guide who is familiar with the area your are exploring.. And most if not all of these guides will tell you…that the odds of witnessing a truly magical experiences improve significantly the more time you spend in the field. Seem obvious? Easier said than done. A lesson learned often the hard way. Time in the Field. “You can’t see them if you are not out there among them”… and conditions are not always ideal when the magic happens. Invariably, the fellow traveler who decides to sleep in and not take the early sunrise hike usually misses the one sighting that they had placed the most value on in planning their trip.

Time in the Field! Persistence paid off for us recently. After more than four seasons of scouring the outer Cape on our boat from Nantucket to Truro with binoculars, using various strategies to solicit the presence of a white shark and observe their hunting prowess we were finally rewarded with a magnificent white shark predation on a small grey seal in real time near the North Chatham Inlet here on Cape Cod. A  true lesson in natural history and a reminder of the majesty of this predator in our midst.

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A truly amazing spectacle that took less than 1 minute to complete. When the shark appeared finished we deplyed our decoy seal (made from pieces of synthetic carpet). A well placed toss and a splash solicted a return visit from the shark. NOTE: the shark is a male about 13 feet long tagged previously…nicknamed “Salty”.

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Salty sniffed this decoy and instantly realized that he had been duped. With a magnificent thrash of his tail he whacked the imposter hard and swam away.

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Outer Cape with WD

Shot acquired while flying with spotter pilot Wayne Davis on one of our days off the water. Note: This is a favorite surfers break off of Wellfleet

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This haul out of grey seals off of Pilgrim Heights is presently the largest gathering of seals on the Outer Cape this summer.

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Dr. Greg Skomal tags his 10th white shark off of Monomoy this week, a 14 footer nick named “Surf Hunter”.

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Working off NAuset Beach

Here is what they see from the beach on most days we are out.

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A Surfer trying his luck close to the beach

Read more.. Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Monomoy NWR

Hard to believe that the dog days of August have come and gone here on Cape Cod and we are welcoming that wonderful time of year known around here as “Septober – Sixty-one Days of Heaven”. As many of you who follow this blog are aware our summer has been dominated by the support we are providing to the Massachusetts Shark Research Program led by Dr. Greg Skomal and John Chisholm of the Department of Marine Fisheries here. That said we did manage a visit into the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge recently to check up on the south – bound shorebirds that frequent our outer beaches at this time of year. Our target area was the southern end of the South Island of Monomoy, an area known to locals as “Powder Hole” a favorite spot especially for birders in New England during the fall.

Monomoy looking north with Shark Cove visible in its entirety

South Monomoy looking north. Powder Hole is the area of ponds in the center.Shark Cove is visible in upper right

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Grey seals congregate around this estuary running out the Powder Hole.

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A rare sighting of a Marbled Godwit passing through on its way south

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Dunlin in non breeding plumage

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Bank swallow feeding over saltwater pan

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Possible Raccoon tracks

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Monomoy Lighthouse now restored by USFWS but not in service for navigation.

And for those of you who are following the white shark research activity when the weather permits us to get a plane in the air and work close to shore the action is strong. We see on average 5 – 7 different white sharks on every trip. Here is a special image taken by Wayne David our spotter pilot. Notice a grey seal on the surf line and a white shark in the lower left part of the frame. This shark was eventually photographed, cataloged and tagged on this day enabling researchers to follow its movement habits into the future for up to five years.

A recent article describing the work of Greg Skomal and our team is here. http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140827/NEWS/408270304/0/SEARCH

Shark at the surface

A very rare look at a white shark at the surface

AD on South Beach

Photo Courtesy of Wayne Davis

Below is the fourth in a series of Field Reports of the White Shark research going on this summer in Cape Cod waters. We are proud to be supporting this work funded by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.

 

Read more.. Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Summer

The summer is now more than half over and the various activities in the wild world here on Cape Cod have been both numerous and exciting to witness. As readers of this blog are aware, we have been supporting the White Shark Population Study field work under the direction of Dr. Greg Skomal through our involvement with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy since the study initiated in June. This has us out on the waters of the outer Cape two to three times a week on the Aleutian Dream with a dedicated team of researchers and volunteers. The work is hugely rewarding .

We have managed a few days off the water to check-in on the beginnings of the fall shorebird migration which has migrants continuing to pass through the outer Cape barrier beaches to refuel on their southerly journey. Other species are finally fledging their young and preparing to leave in the coming weeks. We  are posting a few images gathered over the past week including another wonderful visit to Sandy Neck in Barnstable.

And don’t miss the latest Field Report video with an update on the  White Shark Research below.

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Supermoon rise over North Beach Island, Chatham

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A curious mola mola spotted near the North Chatham inlet

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Semipalimated sandpipers momentarily scared up by a passing Peregrine Falcon. Sandy Neck, Barnstable

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Newly fledged Piping Plover

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An incredible gathering of more than 500 Tree Swallows near the great salt marsh on Sandy Neck, Barnstable

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This osprey was returning to a nest with a newly fledged youngster waiting for a chat with Mom (or dad)

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On patrol at the white shark cafe off South Beach, Chatham

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Photo courtesy of Wayne Davis

Read more.. Monday, August 18th, 2014

Wild Times with White Sharks

Like a moth to a flame……it is exactly a year since Shark Week 2013 kicked off and since we are off the water today took some time to reflect on the adventures with these magnificent creatures during the past year. Here are some of the highlights….

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Seal Island, South Africa

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Seal Island, South Africa

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Monomoy NWR, Cape Cod

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Off Chatham Inlet, Cape Cod

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Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

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Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

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Seal Island, South Africa

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Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

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Blue Shark, Near Block Island, Rhode Island

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Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

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Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

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Seal Island, South Africa

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Blue Shark, Near Block Island, Rhode Island

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Predation event on a seal , Monomoy NWR, Cape Cod

 

 

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Out of the cage, Seal Island, South Africa

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Blue Shark, Near Block Island, Rhode Island

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Picture of the Year 2013 made the cover of TIME Magazine – Seal Island, South Africa

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Seal Island, South Africa

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Guadeloupe Island, Mexico

Blue Shark off Rhode Island

Blue Shark, Near Block Island, Rhode Island

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Free diving with Black tip sharks, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

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Photo courtesy Wayne Davis : Working a white shark off Nauset Beach, Orleans, Massachusetts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more.. Sunday, August 10th, 2014

British Columbia: The Rugged Coast

We are overdue in reporting on some of the details behind our recent journey to the Pacific Northwest. As mentioned in a previous post, our goal was to restock our freezers with a stock of salmon, halibut, ling cod and hopefully have a chance to record some of the truly wonderful wildlife that is resident at this time of year there. Our trip took us north by plane to Bella Bella, a village on the coast well north in BC on the famous cruising grounds known as the Inside Passage. Bella Bella is primarily a First Nations community depending on  commercial fishing as a primary livelihood for residents. From there we caught a ride by water about 20 miles to the south and west to a mobile fish camp anchored in a protected cove for the summer sport fishing season. The camp caters to return visitors who have frequented the beautiful Hakai Pass recreational area before and are comfortable getting around safely in their 17 ft custom fit out for fishing Boston whalers. Accompanied by son Spencer we were eager to get fishing as soon as we arrived. Our perseverance paid off over the 4 days we were on the grounds and managed to return with more than 100 lbs of frozen fish filets to restock our larders. Also sent a few choice pieces to the Smoke house as well. Following are few of the memories. We had a couple of days of dense fog which made it a challenge to get around but when it did clear is was beautiful. And the prize of the trip was a great one hour encounter with a small pod of Transient killer whales.

 

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Black turnstones join a small flock of Surfbirds

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Gulls and auk-lets intensely feed on a herring bait ball

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Female matriarch of the pod…did this surface “spy – hop likely to check us out.

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A young member of the pod did a complete breach just before this frame was taken

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This male had a very distinctly deformed dorsal fin. Likely son of the female above

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Hakai Orca

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Rhinoceros auk-let

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Ceremonial native canoes from as far away as Alaska and Washington State were visiting

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Pacific oystercatchers

 

 

Read more.. Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: White Shark Research

Summer has now commenced in full swing here on Cape Cod and many summer visitors have arrived to enjoy all that a warm and sunny Cape Cod has to offer. Our attention has turned to supporting a research project that is being conducted in Cape Cod waters and when completed will answer the question most people ask about Atlantic white sharks. How many are out there? This work is being funded by donations of time equipment and $ from the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy in cooperation with the Massachusetts department of Marine Fisheries Shark Research Program led by Dr. Greg Skomal. The research is being conducted on the outer Cape operating out of our home port, Chatham and since Greg has been interested in working from a smaller boat platform to see if photographing and tagging white sharks is possible, we offered the use of ours – the 24 foot Aleutian Dream. Over the last couple of years we have made some modifications to this fishing boat to enhance our ability to follow and photograph wildlife in the ocean and with the addition of a bow pulpit the boat seemed ideally suited for the challenge to follow white sharks. And because the region’s seals are so spread out, the only truly efficacious way to find these visiting apex predators is to use a spotter plane. Veteran fish spotter pilot Wayne Davis was recruited for this purpose and after a couple of weeks we have worked most of the kinks out our process.

Please consider supporting this important work by donating  here http://www.atlanticwhiteshark.org/donate/

and BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE VIDEO BELOW!!

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The research protocol calls for the team to be on the water at least two days a week scanning from the boat and working with the plane along the areas barrier beaches looking mainly at the grey seal haulouts for signs of shark predation attempts and any other observations. We have been blessed with some excellent conditions to work in and were rewarded on Saturday June 28 when Wayne spotted 14 – 15 foot white shark about 1/4 mile off of Nauset Beach and we were able to follow her with underwater pole cameras for nearly an hour.

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Read more.. Friday, July 4th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Offshore with Blues

Summer brings with it many changes to the marine environment in and around Cape Cod and surrounding islands. As the ocean currents slowly bring warmer currents from the south the water temperatures rise and some of our migrating fishes return to New England waters along with seabirds who also feast on the bounty that the ocean yields at this time of year. We have longed to hook up with shark conservation legend and filmmaker Joe Romeiro to go offshore to find and swim with Blue sharks in their natural wide open ocean hopefully in clear green and blue water. There is also a chance that a mako shark might bolt into the situation just to liven things up. To accomplish this goal we ventured to Rhode Island to Point Judith for an early departure on board with Pelagic Expeditions, an adventure shark diving operation run by Joe and Brian Raymond. These guys really know their stuff and even though we set out to find clear water in dense fog this Sunday morning – their confidence and experience paid off as we finally broke out of the fog to a sunny flat calm day in the Atlantic ocean. Humpback whales and Minke whales surfaced lazily around us and we waited while our chum slick sent out a call to the ocean scavengers that might be within a few miles of our position. We were also blessed with some close up views of the Wilson Storm Petrel another ocean voyager that makes it’s way to our waters seasonally from deep in the Southern Atlantic, some 9000 miles away. Here are a few shots that tell some of the tale of the day. In case you are wondering we had an absolute blast doing this. Check out Pelagic Expeditions in Rhode Island for more information on how to get in on this local action.

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https://www.facebook.com/PelagicExpeditions

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Wilson’s Storm Petrel gets in on the feeding

Read more.. Tuesday, July 1st, 2014