It is no secret that we at MERS are highly interested in rare sightings of rare species. Good examples would be the last post on our facebook page of a Basking Shark photographed in British Columbia this summer by Wendy Szaniszlo (Facebook Basking) or one of the first confirmed sightings of a live Omura’s Whale made by MERS director Heidi Krajewky while in New Caledonia last year (Omura’s what?).
So what’s so great about a sighting of a Great Shearwater? There is little hope this species of bird would be worthy of report if anyone had seen it in the Atlantic Ocean where they are very common, but on September 5th I was lucky enough to photograph one in Hecate Strait, British Columbia while on a cetacean research expedition. This species is not known to breed anywhere in the Pacific Ocean and therefore is basically not supposed to be here. Tubenose authority Steve Howell refers to them as “very rare in the North Pacific” in his excellent book on Petrels, Albatrosses and Storm-Petrels of North America from 2012. To date there are only 3 confirmed records in British Columbia, the first of which was in 2010!
The strange thing is that good friend and colleague James Pilkington otherwise known for spotting the first North Pacific Right Whale in BC in over 60 years (Right on!) has seen no less than 4 Great Shearwaters this year in offshore waters of British Columbia. The day after our minds were eased by confirming one of them with a photograph we saw 2 more flying side by side. This recent influx of sightings begs the question: What the heck is going on? Have Great Shearwaters invaded the North Pacific via the Arctic or did a number of them make wrong turns from their breeding colonies in the South Atlantic once the breeding season was over? Alternately, have any of them been breeding somewhere in the Pacific Ocean un-noticed?
Whatever the case may be, I feel extremely fortunate to have seen them in an area where they are so rare and have historically been undetected in. It will be interesting to see if sightings of this species become more common in British Columbia in the years to come or if 2013 is just an anomalous year for their occurrence here.