New Zealand's Sub-Antarctic Islands - 2008

The finale to our visit “to” but not “on” this special island was as exciting and moving as the day of coastal explorations had proved to be. Every night

while they are on Snare’s Island for breeding, the sooty shearwaters settle on the ocean

surface about a mile from shore. We could watch them as they flew in and joined the ever- increasing throng of rafting birds. The birds were so numerous that they created highly visible black lines on the horizon! When something spooked them and they all lifted off into the sky, the black cloud they created was so dense we could not see blue sky beyond them. It seemed like we were seeing the mass exodus of millions of bats from Carlsbad Caverns every evening or like seeing the “great migration” of wildebeest and zebra on the Serengeti Plain. The participating animals are uncountable! We motored out beyond where the Clipper Odyssey was anchored in order to be among the birds and it was a magnificent and awe- inspiring experience. The mundane explanation for this extraordinary show is self-defense. When flying back to shore in such huge numbers, the individual birds are protected from predatory birds like skua and giant petrel. The mass of birds also makes it more difficult for a predator to follow an individual back to its nest thus exposing eggs or chicks. Whatever the logical explanation, the encounter for us could not have been more thrilling. What a perfect ending to our visit to Snare’s Island!

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