Cook Strait Pelagic Part 1 Steve Richards - kahu nature photography

In May, a photography mate Tony, was invited on a pelagic trip into Cook Strait, by Michael Szabo. Michael had organized the trip in conjunction with members of OSNZ Wellington. and evidently they had a couple of spaces so I jumped at the opportunity to go on the trip. The skipper was keeping an eye on the weather and on Saturday let Michael know the trip was all go. We all assembled at the Seaview marina at 8am and after the usual pleasantries we boarded the vessel Seafarer II and were introduced to the skipper Jonathan Delich of Cook Strait Fishing Charters and his crew Hamish.

The boat for our Cook Strait Pelagic trip - The Seafarer II - (Click on images to enlarge)

After the safety briefing we were soon under way, with a bit of nor'west breeze behind us. We had done a pelagic trip at Kaikoura a few years earlier, and got fantastic photos, even though there was not a large variety of species. I had spent a dozen or so years living on Stewart Island during the late 70's and 80's, where I was cray fishing and salmon farming. During my time there I also had the chance to fish around the Snares and Auckland Islands, the Traps and around Big South Cape Island. So I have seen my share of rough seas and a lot of the sea birds that frequent the southern ocean and I love being out on the sea.

The Auckland and Snares Islands during the 1980's - From top left - Bullers Mollymawk nesting site, the Late Eric Wing holding an albatross, Bullers Mollymawks, Snares Crested penguins, Black Browed Mollymawks. All taken with an Olympus OM1 and 50mm lens
The Snares Islands during the 1980's : From top left - Approaching the Snares Islands, Bullers Mollymawk on its nest, Snares Crested Penguins at a rookery, fishing boats moored in Ho Ho Bay. All taken with an Olympus OM1 and 50mm lens

We were soon steaming out through the heads, and Hamish threw a couple of lures out behind the boat. Quickly we had a Kahawai on but it was lost at the boat. We were soon out past the pair of light houses on at Pencarrow.

The twin Pencarrow Lighthouses - Left one on the hill the other on the beach

Hamish started throwing a few chunks of fish over the back of the boat and we soon had a few black back gulls flying around the boat. Soon we sighted our first diving petrels, shearwaters and Westland Petrels out on the horizon. The light was still pretty bad, and I was shooting at 1600 ISO, but photographing the almost black Westland Petrels just produced a bunch of black silhouettes only good enough for the trash bin. As the light improved I tried shooting with an exposure of 1 stop over, and moved the ISO to 800, but my camera was still producing black silhouette petrels with no detail, so I went to 2 stops over, which I pretty much stayed with all day. I was using a Canon 1DX with a 500mm F4 lens. I also had my 5DSR and a 70 - 200mm F4 for close shots. Soon we had a swarm of birds wheeling around the boat, including Black-browed, White capped and Bullers mollymawks. With the light still being not good I decided to photograph the mollymawks first and leave the Westland petrels till later when hopefully it would be brighter.


The White-capped mollymawk is a medium-sized albatross. They have black on top of the wings and white underneath with a narrow black band around the edge. The body is white, with the cheeks having a grey patch and a black smudge in front of the eye. The bill is grey/blue with a yellow tip. On my trips to the Auckland Islands we could see a large numbers of these birds in a breeding colony on Disappointment Island. In 1907, the Dundonald, a steel, four-masted barque, sailing from Australia to England was the ship wrecked on Disappointment Island. The frame of the coracle the survivors built and covered with seal skins, to row the 5 miles to the main Auckland Island is in the museum in Christchurch.

(Click on images to enlarge)


The Bullers Mollymawk is the most attractive small albatross, with its striking black and golden-yellow bill and smart black, grey and white plumage. It is one of the more abundant small albatrosses occurring around coastal areas of New Zealand, particularly south from Cook Strait. We often saw large numbers scavenging around boats fishing for blue cod when I was on Stewart Island. We also saw breeding colonies on the Snares Islands.

(Click on images to enlarge)


The Black-browed Mollymawk is a medium-sized albatross with an estimated population of 3 million birds, making it the world’s most numerous 'albatross' species. A large percentage breed at the Falkland Islands in huge colonies of up to an estimated 100,000 pairs. The Black browed mollymawk is another attractive mollymawk with striking black and white plumage, with a black brow over its eyes and a yellow bill with a pink tip. The Black browed is one of my favourite mollymawks, as I was privileged in the 1980's, when fishing around the Snares Islands, we took Dr Colin Miskelly, now a curator at Te Papa and another researcher out and landed on the Western Chain. I landed with them on Toru a small islet, and spent a couple hours exploring the rugged rock. The islet was covered in breeding birds and we had to push our way amongst the Bullers mollymawks, snares crested penguins and the cape pigeons. Colin discovered a breeding pair of Black browed mollymawks with a chick, the first recorded outside a small colony on Campbell Island.

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