Lisa Etherington, Research Coordinator
Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary
The crew watching the video console displaying the ROV debris removal operations wasn’t the only group to be treated to some exciting observations. During the cruise, two people were manning the back deck operations, ensuring that the boat was staying clear of the ROV cable and making adjustments to the amount of cable out to compensate for changing depth of the seafloor (which can be dramatic in some areas of the Bank-up to 45 degree slope). While tending the lines, this group was able to stay alert to wildlife activity on and above the ocean surface.
Black-footed Albatrosses and 1 Laysan Albatross investigating the ROV. (Photo: Jan Roletto, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary)
First there was one coming in from one direction, then another from the opposite direction, and eventually there were over 50 Black-footed Albatrosses floating on the surface staring curiously at the ship and the ROV cable.
As these birds are opportunistic scavenging feeders, maybe they were just curious to see what kind of morsels we were sending off the back deck. Unfortunately, the red ROV and pink cable weren’t much of a meal.
Later we found out that earlier that week, some colleagues and partners from Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge and Hawaii Pacific University tagged 8 Black-footed Albatrosses on Cordell Bank with satellite radio transmitters . It will be interesting to see what kind of journeys these birds will take will they hang out around Cordell Bank awhile, or will they leave soon to journey back to their breeding grounds thousands of miles away on the northwest Hawaiian Islands?
Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) are a common visitor to Cordell Bank from early summer through fall. They forage in the food-rich waters of the California Current and then bring food back to their chicks that are waiting for them on the northwest Hawaiian Islands, which are part of another marine protected area within the National Marine Sanctuary Program Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.
Endangered Short-tailed Albatross sitting on water. (Photo: Jan Roletto, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary)
We were delighted to be joined by an abundance of Black-footed Albatrosses on our cruise, but we also had the pleasure of observing two other albatrosses that are uncommon to rare visitors within Cordell Bank sanctuary and the California Current Ecosystem. The R/V Fulmar’s Captain Dave Minard proved himself to be not only a proficient captain, but also an astute birder when he noticed that one of the albatrosses surrounding the boat looked a bit ‘different.’ The bright pink bill and the large dark body of one of the birds were identifying characteristics of a juvenile Short-tailed Albatross (Phoebastria albatrus).
Laysan Albatross soaring over the water of Cordell Bank NMS. (Photo: Michael Carver Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary)
Since this albatross is an endangered species, with an estimated population of only approximately 2000 individuals, we felt very lucky to have had the opportunity to watch it on the water as well as in the air from a very close range for an extended period of time. Later, a Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis), which is an uncommon bird to be sighted in the Sanctuary, joined the group of albatrosses to add another exciting observation to the day’s list.
These bonus wildlife observations illustrate that the benefits of an oceanographic cruise go far beyond the main objectives of the primary project and include other sources of information that are collected that help us to understand and protect the sanctuary ecosystem.