Over the past 16 months, there have been three separate sightings of the Shy Albatross(Thalassarche cauta) off the coast of northern California. These very large (nine-foot wingspan), powerful seagoing birds breed on rocky islands off the coasts of Tasmania and New Zealand. While they are known to fly enormous distances, there have been only five recorded sightings outside the southern hemisphere. The first recorded California sighting occurred in August 1999 off Point Arena (Mendocino). The next two—which may or may not have been the same individual—occurred in July and September 2000, in an area about 22 miles off the coast of Marin, on the Cordell Banks. Why this sudden appearance? No one knows, according to local pelagic bird expert Luke Cole, who leads excursions for Shearwater Journeys and the California Academy of Sciences. Changes in ocean temperature and weather patterns over the past two years don’t explain it, says Cole, so we can only speculate. Perhaps they aren’t as “shy” as they used to be? If you’d like to see albatrosses and other pelagic birds, sign up for a day-long boat trip with Shearwater Journeys at (831) 637-8527. Trips run from April through December.
Bay Nature magazine ◦ January-March 2001