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Equator to Antarctica - Sector 1: Nassau to Callao

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

The team at Ocean Wildlife Encounters are geared to supporting epic cruise adventures, having collectively clocked up hundreds of thousands of sea miles, covering most of the wildlife rich areas of ocean across this amazing blue planet of ours. Understandably, we were delighted to be invited aboard Fred Olsen Cruise Lines' Balmoral for part of her South America and Antarctica grand voyage. In total we would spend six weeks aboard MS Balmoral as she ventured from the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal, hugging the west coast of South America before dashing across the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula. Then switching oceans to head northwards to the Falklands and on to Uruguay, before leaving the ship in Buenos Aires.

We all work full-time, so we needed three teams to cover the six-week trip. On board we would spend sea days guiding and helping passengers to spot as much ocean life as we could, be it birds, whales, dolphins, sharks, sea turtles and more besides. We would give many talks on a wide variety of natural history topics, run workshops and each evening we would host a daily review of sightings. We made ourselves available to the passengers from sunrise to sunset and sometimes well beyond.


This blog highlights the sheer diversity of wildlife we encountered, interesting discoveries made and some challenging facts about the threats our oceans face. It is also full of amazing memories which we hope the passengers who shared the experience with us on deck will remember fondly. Whilst this blog concentrates primarily on ‘at sea’ encounters we will also feature some of the thrilling nature we experienced shore-side, in our separate Ocean Wildlife Encounters – ‘Off-Piste’ blog posts.


Sector 1. Nassau to Callao

Our team, Anthony ‘Anno’ Brandreth, David Chilcott (AKA ‘Dolphin Dave’), Laura Dennis and Jeff Clarke, embarked MS Balmoral, operated by Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, mid-afternoon on the 18th January 2023. The usual domestic arrangements completed, we made it onto deck as Balmoral slipped her ropes and headed for the Caribbean Sea. It was dark within twenty minutes, but it did give us the chance to make the acquaintance of some of the passengers aboard.

Ocean Wildlife Encounters team for Sector 1 of MS Balmoral's South America and Antarctica cruise  Jan - Feb 2023
OWE Team Sector 1. From left, Laura Dennis, Anthony Brandreth, Jeff Clarke, David Chilcott

We were on deck at sunrise the following day to be greeted by a force 5 and a rather lumpy sea. Our chances of spotting dolphins and elusive beaked whales was going to be severely compromised, and conditions only worsened to a force 6/7 over the three day journey to Colón in Panama.


Despite the conditions we did find some cetaceans. Thankfully, we intercepted a few small pods of Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins, and they obliged by cavorting to ride the bow, then leaping briefly in the bow wake as they left us. One mixed pod of dolphins left us scratching our heads, fortunately Dave blasted off a few images as the dolphins departed and they revealed a small posse of Rough-toothed Dolphin who had been hiding in plain sight among the Pan-tropicals.

Pan tropical Spotted Dolphins leap out of the water in the Caribbean Sea.
Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins off Cuba © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Rough-toothed Dolphin leaping in ships wake in Caribbean Sea
Rough-toothed Dolphin - Caribbean Sea © David Chilcott - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Sea Turtles abound in the Caribbean Sea, but spotting them in such conditions is reliant on them passing exceptionally close to the side of the ship. By concentrating either side of the bow we did find a few specimens, mostly Green Turtle, but at least one was a Ridley type.

A submerged shark species was spotted using a similar technique. Dave photographed it, but the distortion effect of the swell prevented certain identification, though general consensus was that it was most likely a Tiger Shark.


The one thing that was easy to spot at the bow were the many hundreds of flyingfish the ship would flush at regular intervals. We saw several distinct species and some beautifully marked younger fish. We also spotted a few other fish, including Garfish.

A flyingfish, possibly Atlantic Patching takes flight in the Caribbean Sea, January 2023
Flyingfish putative Atlantic Patchwing - Caribbean Sea © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A juvenile flyingfish, presumed Sargassum Midget, takes flight in the Caribbean Sea, January 2023
Flying fish juvenile, presumed Sargassum Midget, Caribbean Sea © David Chilcott - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A garfish species, premed Needle-nosed, photographed in the Caribbean Sea from MS Balmoral, January 2023
Needle-nosed Garfish (presumed) - Caribbean Sea © David Chilcott - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

The fish themselves were a magnet for fish eating birds, specifically boobies. The ship was accompanied by three different species, Brown, Red-footed and Masked Booby over the three day journey to Colón. Brown Booby dominated sightings on the first sea day, as we were generally not too far from land, but day two in the open ocean brought a change. Twelve, or more, Red-footed Boobies were with Balmoral for an extended period. On the final sea day before Panama our one and only Masked Booby of the Caribbean joined us.

An Atlantic Brown Booby flies close to the starboard bow of MS Balmoral in the Caribbean Sea off Cuba Jan 2023
Atlantic Brown Booby - Caribbean Sea © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Red footed Booby in Caribbean sea south of Cuba from MS Balmoral Jan 2023
Red-footed Booby (white-tailed brown morph) Caribbean Sea © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A white morph Red-footed Booby passes the MS Balmoral in the Caribbean Sea, Jan 2023
Red-footed Booby (white morph) Caribbean Sea © David Chilcott - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A Masked Booby passes MS Balmoral north of Panama Jan 2023
Masked Booby (3rd Calendar) - Caribbbean Sea © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Petrels and Shearwaters were surprisingly scarce, with just two Black-capped Petrel and singles of Bulwer’s Petrel and Audubon’s Shearwater. A circling party of 20+ Sooty Tern brought short-lived entertainment but by far the biggest surprise was a land bird. The rafts of sargassum weed are commonplace and normally they are important for the likes of sea turtles and fish, but a migrating Least Bittern had taken refuge on one of the mats and was flushed as Balmoral bore down. It made a sharp exit and rapidly disappeared. It had been a moderate start but we were confident that Panama would bring us plenty to show passengers as we navigated the famous canal.

A Black capped Petrel south of Cuba from MS Balmoral Jan 2023
Black-capped Petrel - Caribbean Sea © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A raft of Sargassum Weed in the Sargasso Sea in the Caribbean Jan 2023
Sargassum Weed - Caribbean Sea © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

We cruised into Colón early on the 22nd to be greeted by effortlessly soaring Magnificent Frigatebirds and squadrons of Turkey and Black Vultures. There were also Reticulated Iguanas loafing in the dock complex. Panama is one of the greatest birding destinations on planet earth. What treasures would we plunder during our day ashore? You'll have to go 'Off--Piste' to find out.

A Reticulate Iguana photographed at the dock side in  Colón, Panama in Jan 2023
Reticulated Iguana - Colón, Panama © David Chilcott - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

The Panama Canal

The 23rd January dawned as we approached the entrance to the renowned Panama Canal, regarded as one of the ‘seven modern wonders of the world’. If you want to combine human ingenuity with some stellar wildlife watching, then transiting this world-renowned waterway might be at the very top of the list.

MS Balmoral transiting the Panama Canal 23rd January 2023
Panama Canal from MS Balmoral © Laura Dennis - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

The sun was just rising as we entered Gatun Locks, where native forest sits close at hand on either side, and Red-lored Parrots were making themselves obvious by crossing Balmoral’s path in noisy pairs. Mantled Howler Monkeys were welcoming the day in their inimitable style and sunning themselves in the tree-tops, toucans were equally obvious, and it was a treat to enjoy this natural pageant with so many of the passengers on board.

A pair of Red-lored Parrots fly over MS Balmoral as she transits the Panama Canal January 2023
Red-lored Parrots - Panama Canal © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A Mantled Howler monkey climbs down a tree adjacent to Gatun Locks, Panama Canal 23rd January 2023
Mantled Howler Monkey - Panama Canal © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Before long the first Black Vulture could be seen lumbering into the air, as the first thermals bubbled up to carry them aloft, soon to be joined by a pair of King Vulture. The sun rays were also warming the bodies of the Green Iguanas that lay draped across the foliage lining the canal's banks.

An American Black Vulture takes off. Panama Canal January 2023
American Black Vulture - Panama Canal © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A distant King Vulture Soars above the Panama Canal Ja.nuary 2023
King Vulture - Panama Canal © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Green Iguanas warming up on vegetation lining the Panama Canal at Gatun Locks, January 2023.
Green Iguanas - Panama Canal © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Once through the locks we entered Gatun Lake and things settled down for a time, but it was still possible to spot wildlife, be it an American Crocodile resting on an island bank, or one of the numerous Ospreys perched in the trees. We also had a chance to scour the decks and find some of the interesting invertebrates that had been attracted to the ship overnight. Every now and again a passenger would draw our attention to a stranded moth. These included a Banded Sphynx Eumorpha fasciatus and the Fissured Bark Moth Morpheis pyracmon.

An American Crocodile rests on a bank along the Panama Canal January 2023
American Crocodile - Panama Canal © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Banded Sphynx aboard Balmoral, Panama Canal © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A Fissured Bark moth stranded aboard MS Balmoral  in Panama Canal, January 2023
Fissured Bark Moth aboard Balmoral, Panama Canal © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

As usual the locks areas proved very productive for wildlife sightings, most of it is perfectly viewable through binoculars or a telescope but not readily photographable. A Short-tailed Hawk, female Magnificent Frigatebird and Brown Pelican proved most obliging. In contrast, despite being numerous around the lock areas, the Grey-breasted Martins proved a greater challenge to photograph.

A Short tailed Hawk soars above the MS Balmoral  as it passes through the Panama Canal  23rd January 2023.
Short-tailed Hawk - Panama Canal © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A Brown Pelican passes MS Balmoral as she transits the Panama Canal  23rd January 2023
Brown Pelican - Panama Canal © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A female Magnificent Frigatebird escorts MS Balmoral through the Panama Canal, January 2023
Magnificent Frigatebird female, Panama Canal © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A Grey-breasted Martin flying over MS Balmoral as it transits the Panama Canal, 23rd January 2023
Grey-breasted Martin - Panama Canal © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

The Miraflores locks are particularly productive. Scanning into the backwaters we successfully got the passengers on to a good variety of species including Yellow-crowned Night Heron, White Ibis, Wood Stork and Ringed Kingfisher. We also managed to fulfil our promise of finding Fork-tailed Flycatcher, which coincided with a thundery shower.

A Yellow-crowned Night Heron watches for prey in a side-water of Miraflores, Lock Panama Canal January 2023
Yellow-crowned Night Heron - Miraflores Lock, Panama Canal © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A Ringed Kingfishes searches for prey at Miraflores Lock, Panama Canal, January 2023
Ringed Kingfisher - Miraflores Lock, Panama Canal © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A Fork-tailed Flycatcher in a thundery shower. Panama Canal. January 2023
Fork-tailed Flycatcher - Panama Canal © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Just as we were exiting the final lock system, we also found one of our hoped-for mammals. The Capybara, the world’s largest rodent, is often spotted here, and we were fortunate to get many passengers on to several small groups of these giant, aquatic guinea pigs. It was a fitting finale to our transiting of the canal.

A Capybara feeds near Miraflores Lock, Panama Canal, 23rd January 2023
A Capybara near Miraflores Lock, Panama Canal © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

We headed out into the Pacific as dusk approached and we picked up the first of our Pacific cetaceans, Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins. New ocean but the same dolphin species that had dominated in the Caribbean.


Following the sightings review that evening we were alerted to a stranded seabird on Deck 7. Jeff promptly donned his nitrile gloves and mask (sensible precautions due to the risk of avian influenza), and the bird was quickly located. It turned out to be a Black Storm-petrel. The bird was checked for damage and once satisfied that it was in good shape it was released. This would be the prelude to a number of seabirds coming on board, something that happens frequently on misty calm nights.

Checking a rescued Black Storm-petrel is fit to release. Gulf of Panama © Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Nazca

Ahead of us lay two full sea days before our next port of call in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

A scouring of the decks in the early hours of the 24th revealed another four Black Storm-petrels on Balmoral’s decks. All were successfully released.


Up at sunrise and a passenger alerted us to another stranded bird. This was more of a surprise, an American Purple Gallinule was strutting around Deck 8. We were just considering how to get hold of it when it promptly jumped onto the rail and hightailed it out to sea. We imagined that would be the last we would see of it.

An stowaway American Purple Gallinule jumps ship in the Gulf of Panama 24th January 2023
American Purple Gallinule departing Balmoral 24th January © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A relatively calm sea meant we were finally spotting more dolphins and by nightfall we had recorded well in excess of 160 individuals. Our totals included 102+ Common Dolphin and 55+ Striped Dolphin. Frustratingly, two beaked whales showed all too briefly, and remained unidentified.

Sea turtles were also a little easier to spot. At least two Loggerhead Turtles were seen but another five animals were left undetermined, though the majority were probably the same species.

A Loggerhead Turtle in Gulf of Panama, 24th January 2023
A Loggerhead Turtle slides past MS Balmoral's bow. © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

The Brown Booby on the Pacific side is a little different and is commonly referred to as Brewster’s Brown Booby. The males in particular have a distinctive frosting on the head and some authorities consider them to be a separate species from the Atlantic Brown Booby. As it was, they were the dominant Booby species on our first full sea day in the Pacific, but by day two the Nazca Booby was by far the most abundant. Nazca was only recently split taxonomically from the similar looking Masked Booby, though genetically that split occurred between 0.8 and 1.1 million years ago. One of its prime breeding sites is the Galapagos Islands but they also breed on Isla de la Plata off the Ecuadorian coast. As Balmoral approached this island their numbers increased substantially. Their presence provided one of the premier natural highlights of the cruise as bird after bird passed within a metre or two of the passengers thronging along the starboard side of Deck 7. One bird even perched on a light stanchion that was fixed to the port side bow. How often do you get to be in such close proximity of a pelagic bird?

A Brewsters Brown Booby slides past the bow of MS Balmoral in the Gulf of Panama, 24th January 2023
Brewster's Brown Booby - Gulf of Panama © David Chilcott - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Nazca Booby - Pacific Ocean off Ecuador © Jeff Clarke- Ocean Wildlife Encounters


Red-footed Boobies also appeared, these were brown morph birds. These gracile, fast birds seemed to react more quickly to the flushed flyingfish, and frequently got to them before the other booby species. Though the sequence below showing Nazca Boobies catching flying fish, photographed by Dave, might suggest otherwise.

Nazca Boobies capturing flyingfish - Pacific Ocean © Dave Chilcott - Ocean Wildlife Encounters


A flying fish re-powers it's flight, Pacific Ocean January 2023
A flyingfish powering away from MS Balmoral - Pacific Ocean © David Chilcott - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

We also had one other booby species, Blue-footed Booby, a famous denizen of the Galapagos Islands that also breeds on Isla de la Plata. This is perhaps the most well-known booby species to non-birders as it has featured on many nature programmes due to its ‘dancing’ blue feet.

A Blue footed Booby passes MS Balmoral off Isla de la Plata 25th January 2023
Blue-footed Booby off Isla de la Plata, Ecuador © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

While we are on the subject of dancing feet, the Purple Gallinule made a reappearance on Deck 8 during this part of our journey. It was Anno’s turn to don the gloves and mask, but the bird took refuge underneath a wicker sofa. Its dangling feet were the only means of extraction, which once tickled, soon shredded his gloves. When you see these birds plodding around a wetland it’s hard to imagine them being great flyers, but once released it morphed into Usain Bolt, as it sprinted for the coast of Ecuador.

Anthony Brandreth releases a stranded American Purple Gallinule © David Chilcott - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Other stowaways at this stage included a small green-dotted shieldbug that goes by the ‘presumed’ scientific name Augocoris illustris, and another beautiful hawkmoth called the Streaked Sphynx Protambulyx strigilis.

A streaked Spynx moth found stranded aboard MS Balmoral after exiting the Gulf of Panama, January 2023
Streaked Sphynx Protambulyx strigilis aboard MS Balmoral © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

The Pacific was living up to its name by remaining placid throughout our second full sea day. At last, we were finding whales, and particularly dolphins, significantly easier to find and identify. Yet more Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins along with our first Risso’s and Common Bottlenose Dolphins and a lone Bryde’s Whale, but at this stage of our journey they were mostly keeping their distance from the ship, so no worthwhile images. Fingers crossed that the Humboldt Current would change our luck in that department.


Guayaquil

The cruise in, and out, of Guayaquil was via the lengthy mangrove-lined waterway of the Rio Guayas estuary. We arrived as the sun was rising and departed as the sun was setting. The mangroves and waterway edge seethed with life. So many birds were switching between day and night roosts, or foraging areas. The deck of the ship was a great vantage point to witness this. Roseate Spoonbills were among the most noticeable participants in this avian cavalcade, but so too were Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Herons, Neotropical Cormorants and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. Just as Balmoral set off once again the first of the evening’s bats began to whip past. We had no chance of identifying them to species.

A Roseate spoonbill flies over MS Balmoral at dusk in Guayaquil, 26th January 2023
Roseate Spoonbill - Guayaquil, Ecuador © David Chilcott - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Humboldt

On the 27th January we finally made it into the Humboldt/Peruvian Current and the whole thing just exploded with blubber and birds. This would be one of the days that live long in the memory.

As the sun rose it began to illuminate clouds of small silvery grey birds. These were phalaropes, a type of small wading bird; all the identified individuals proved to be Grey Phalarope. Our estimate of 5000+ over the day was probably a serious undercount. They spend the winter spinning on the ocean, which creates a vortex allowing them to draw up planktonic items, before departing in the spring when they head for the Arctic tundra. There they perform the same trick on pools in the permafrost where they consume insects. There is an uncanny correlation between their presence and proximity to large whales, and today would prove no exception.

Tiny plankton feeding Grey Phalaropes take to the air in the Humboldt Current in Northern Peru 27th Jan 2023
Clouds of Grey Phalaropes off Northern Peru © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

The first ‘blows’ came hard on the heels of the phalaropes. An orca-like fluke scythed through the water amid a crescendo of white foam. The tell-tail sideways-on lunging of a feeding Fin Whale. By day’s end we would record 59+ of this lithe leviathan.

A Fin whale fluke displayed whilst lunge feeding in the Humboldt Current of Peru 27th Jan 2023
Fin Whale side-lunge feeding and showing part of fluke - off Northern Peru © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Two Fin Whales lunge-feeding in the Humboldt Current off Northern Peru , 27th Jan 2023
Fin Whale duo lunge-feeding - off Northern Peru © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

In addition to the large whales we had masses of dolphin, mostly Common Dolphins including some super-pods. As is standard in the Humboldt they eschewed the opportunity to bow-ride and mostly headed away from Balmoral at high speed. In total we recorded 2070+.


The birds were no less impressive in numbers, and the diversity was something to behold. Early in the morning we recorded our first Galapagos Petrel. The images wouldn’t win any awards, but they proved we were not hallucinating. Hailing from the same cluster of celebrated islands came one of the most sought after seabirds, the unique looking Waved Albatross, at this stage 5+ for the day seemed like an impressive total. Though that was puny in comparison to the 200+ Swallow-tailed Gulls that also angled past Balmoral.

A Galapagos Petrel takes a fish whilst observed from MS Balmoral in the Humboldt Current of Northern Peru on the 27th Jan 2023
Galapagos Petrel - Humboldt Current off Northern Peru © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A Waved Albatross photographed from MS Balmoral in the Humboldt Current of Northern Peru on the 27th January 2023
Waved Albatross off Northern Peru © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A Swallow-tailed Gull passes the bow of MS Balmoral off the coast of Northern Peru. January 2023
Swallow-tailed Gull off Northern Peru © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

The other super-star bird of the day was Blue-footed Booby. I’m not sure any of us anticipated over 500 appearing during the day. They were often mixed in with Peruvian Booby, so that you had a good chance to directly compare their plumage features and get the differences fixed for easy recognition, even at great distance.

A mixed flock of Peruvian and Blue footed Boobies in the Humboldt Current of Northern Peru on the 27th January 2023
Peruvian and Blue-footed Boobies off Northern Peru © David Chilcott - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

We had over 50 ‘dark-rumped’ storm petrels during the day, but they were mostly distant and only one came close enough to identify positively as Markham’s Storm Petrel, our first of the cruise.


One of the great highlights of the day was a rare meteorological phenomenon. Shortly after 1pm we looked up to see a superb sun halo. This one was rainbow-like in form. It’s an optical effect created by light passing though ice crystals high in the atmosphere within cirrus, or cirrostratus, clouds. We roamed the ship pointing out the phenomenon, most folks were entranced and got their phones out to take an image for posterity.

Sun Halo off Northern Peru (right image enhanced to show ice crystals) © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters


There was also a ‘gut-wrenching’ moment of the day, as Balmoral passed within binocular distance of a series of purse-seining Peruvian fishing vessels targeting Tuna. This is often regarded as the worst-regulated marine fishery on the planet and seeing dozens of sea lions trapped in the nets was just devastating to witness. It wasn’t long before we were watching a series of dead sea-lions float by; most were clearly bearing net scars. This is the price nature pays for a badly regulated industry. We all know it goes on and universally condemn it, but witnessing such ruthless by-catch carnage at first-hand really makes the blood boil. If you want to help, please only purchase ‘pole and line’ caught tuna.

Purse seiners off Northern Peru catching Sea Lion as By-catch of the Tuna Fishery in Peru. 27th January 2023
South American Sea Lion encircled by Purse Seine net off Northern Peru © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A Purse Seiner hauls aboard sea lions as by-catch in the Humboldt Current off Northern Peru 27th January 2023
Sea Lions being hauled in Purse Seine nets off Northern Peru © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

On a lighter note, passengers once again drew our attention to yet another stranded hawkmoth. This turned out to be a very smart Pink-spotted Sphynx Agrius cingulate. If you are an entomologist, you can certainly keep up your passion for inverts whilst on a cruise in the tropics.

A beautiful Pink Spotted Sphynx hawk-moth aboard MS Balmoral off Northern Peru 27th January 2023
Pink-spotted Sphynx Agrius cingulate aboard Balmoral off Northern Peru © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

At the tail end of the day came our biggest surprise. As the light began to fade some more blows to starboard drew our attention. Looking through binoculars we could see a rather pale form, with a suspiciously small dorsal visible as the animal rolled: Chilean Blue Whale. It sank and didn’t reappear. We stowed our gear and reluctantly headed indoors. Dave went starboard, while Anno, Laura and Jeff went port, where we saw two more Chilean Blue Whales surface right next to the ship. You could probably hear Anno’s rapturous yells in Peru!


The 28th would mark Anno and Dave’s last full sea day aboard, before the scheduled team changeover in Callao. It would do well to match up to the previous day’s events, but certainly in one respect it far surpassed it. The Waved Albatross was an almost constant feature. We recorded a jaw-dropping 200+ of this critically endangered species. At times gatherings into double figures would be resting on the water. This species is not a ship follower, so despite the numbers, close flybys were the exception rather than the rule.

A Waved Albatross sits in the Humboldt Current of Northern Peru, 28th January 2023
Waved Albatross from MS Balmoral 28th January 2023 off Northern Peru © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

The only bird to outscore them over the day was the diminutive Elliot’s Storm-petrel, (sometimes referred to as White-vented Storm-petrel). This species is part of the ‘Wilson’s’ complex. It is split into two sub-species; one is resident around the Galapagos, the other is known to breed in the Atacama Desert along with two other storm-petrel species, Hornby’s and Markham’s, some of which were occasionally seen being harassed by Pomarine Skuas.

A Pomarine Skua in the Humboldt Current area off Northern Peru 28th January 2023
Pomarine Skua off Northern Peru © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Whales and dolphins were far scarcer than the previous day, but we did add a new species for the cruise in the form of Dusky Dolphin, though these were outnumbered by an impressive 40+ Risso’s Dolphin.

A record shot of Risso's Dolphin of Northern Peru 28th January 2023 © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

As the sun set on this first sector of the cruise it was time to reflect on a fantastic couple of weeks. The windy weather didn’t help in the Caribbean, but thank goodness for the boobies! The passage through the Panama Canal was brilliant, as always, and once we reached the Humboldt current it blew us away. Finding the Chilean Blue Whales so far north at this time of year was a massively insightful happening, surely a result of the ongoing La Niña and all that extra cold water in the north of the system. We also had some pretty sensational off-ship encounters to reminisce upon which you can read about in our OWE Sector 1 'off-piste' adventures blog.

A superb sunset in the Humboldt Current of Northern Peru on the 28th January 2023
Final sunset for OWE Team 1 aboard MS Balmoral 28th January 2023 © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Dave and Anno had helped to give OWE real credibility and set the tone for the rest of the journey, and as expected, their talks were very well received. Muchas gracias Señors! “So long and thanks for all the fish”.

Two amigos from Ocean Wildlife Encounters say farewell to MS Balmoral on 28th January 2023
Anno Brandreth and David Chilcott say goodbye to MS Balmoral (for now). © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Please note: All images and text are copyright of the photographer/author and Ocean Wildlife Encounters. Passengers on the cruise may copy images for personal use only.

You can read the Sector 2 blog here

Part three of the blog is in preparation and will be published shortly.


Acknowledgments Ocean Wildlife Encounters would like to thank the following individuals and organisations: Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, the crew of MS Balmoral, our agents Peel Talent and in particular Sara Andrew, for enabling our participation in this epic adventure.


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Thankyou OWE......what a fantastic bonus to the holiday.Richard A.

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