Alone at Sea with the Shearwaters

I am always fascinated by the different personalities and skills of different Seabirds. The Albatross are the masters of straight wing soaring, the Gannets are the champions of high diving, the gorgeous Storm petrels are the petite dancers and the Jaegers are the Pirates.

So where do the Shearwaters fit in here? Easy, they are the all rounders, adapted to do all. Although they prefer to put in a few more wing beats they are able to soar on the wind like an Albatross, swim deep under the water like a Gannet, manoeuvre as well as a Storm Petrel and haggle another bird for tucker like a Jaeger.

The Flesh footed Shearwater, Wedge tailed shearwater and the Short tailed Shearwater can perform all of these things and are regular visitors to the waters off of the Sunshine Coast. Actually I most enjoy observing them when they are soaring and working the wind, how exhilarating it must be to fly with this amount of skill and ability. The speed which they can generate from a soft early breeze is unbelievable, straight winged banking ever so high into the breeze then a long sweeping gravity pulling dive just feathering the water with their inside wing and sometimes generating a slight ripple on the water (a sheer joy to observe) then maybe one or two wing beats but mostly using wind energy similar to an albatross to again bank high into the wind to gain altitude again. When the wind does not blow and the ocean is totally becalm these shearwaters descend down close to the water and harness the air being displaced by the ocean swells.At such times Shearwaters are able to use ‘ground affect’ to further extend glides, needing to only occasionally add a couple of wing beats to maintain momentum on a windless ocean. With the first little zephyr of a new breeze Shearwaters will bank high in the sky to soar again.

In a stiff 20 to 25 knot south easterly breeze my little Shark Cat will excel when returning to Mooloolaba from the crabbing grounds we call the ‘Grey Sands’. It is kind of exhilarating for me when travelling home at twenty knots, punching quarter into a good sea and the little Cat is working well as I sit there with the boat running on auto pilot being precisely guided by the GPS satellites out in space. To be well out to sea before first light my day started at 1.45 AM and it is now late afternoon and it is good to finally sit down for or an hour or so for the trip back to port. At this time I take great pleasure in observing the flying skills of the marvellous Shearwaters as they effortlessly outpace me into the breeze. I watch as a Crested Tern will flap away, power flying and making hard work of it, struggling to gain any ground against the brisk wind. While at the same time a Shearwater soars past, wings straight and long, and relishing the prevailing windy conditions.

Another area which Shearwaters excel at is their ability to swim, more like fly, under the water and dive down to great depths.   



Both the Flesh footed Shearwater and the Short tailed Shearwater will follow fishing boats all day long and squabble over any scrap piece of fish which may come their way. Squabbles are normally an all in affair and are intense but short in duration. Whereas the Wedge tailed Shearwater may alight behind my fishing boat for a minute or two but always appears a little shy and is soon in the air again. 




The Flesh footed Shearwater, Wedge tailed shearwater and the Short tailed Shearwater are all commonly called Mutton birds by fishermen, a name which I despise for the reason that I have great respect for these birds and will not use it again for they are true seafarers they are the Shearwaters.




I also see quite a lot of Hutton’s Shearwaters and Fluttering Shearwaters off the Coast here. They are not the great soarers of the above Shearwaters and are mostly seen low on the water, wave skimming power flying (fluttering) with quick short stints of low soaring and rarely having any interaction with fishing boats. The Hutton’s Shearwaters and Fluttering Shearwaters are most difficult to distinguish apart as both have over lapping plumage variations between the two species.   

Richard Freeman  

Framed Prints of Shearwaters.



Alone at Sea with Humpback Whales.

Alone at sea with Sharks.

Alone at Sea with my Dolphins.

The Wreck of the ‘’SS Dickey”.

Alone at Sea with my Gannets.

Alone at Sea with my Fairy Prions.

Alone at Sea with my Albatross.

Alone at Sea with Jellies and Stingers.

Alone at Sea with my Giant Petrels.

Alone at Sea with my Storm Petrels.

Alone at Sea with my Terns.

Alone at Sea with Jaegers and Skuas.

Alone at Sea with the Shearwaters.

My 5.6 metre Shark Cat.

Weather at Sea.