Shearwaters occur in all the world's oceans and many undertake huge journeys after breeding in search of food. All have the distinctive shearing flight, dipping from side to side on stiff wings with intermittent wing beats, the wingtips almost touching the water. The flight is a marvel to watch, a lesson in efficiency of effort designed to cover the vast areas of ocean in search of food.
In Ireland, the Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) breeds on many of the offshore islands around our coasts but particularly on the Blasket Islands in huge numbers. A night spent amongst them is an unforgettable experience listening to their almost unnatural cries as they come ashore to the nesting burrows.
July and August is the optimal time to encounter Shearwaters off Irish coastal waters as our native birds are joined by Shearwaters from both the Mediterranean and the South Atlantic. Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea) and Mediterranean Shearwaters (Puffinus puffinus mauretanicus) disperse out of the Mediterranean into Irish coastal waters to take advantage of the seasonal bloom of fish that occurs here in late Summer.
The Great Shearwater (Puffinus gravis) and Sooty Shearwaters (Puffinus grisus) leave the islands of the South Atlantic to begin a circular journey up the eastern seaboard of South and North America before crossing the Atlantic often via Greenland and Iceland to arrive off the Irish SW coasts in time to join the same seasonal food abundance. They later head south again down the eastern littoral of the Atlantic to the Southern hemisphere to complete a remarkable annual pilgrimage.
The bird depicted on the Shearwater Sea Kayaking company logo is the Great Shearwater (Puffinus gravis.)
Special thanks to James Lohen, Jeff Poklen and Killian Mullarney for their permission to use their photographs of the various Shearwater species.