What Is a Pelagic Trip?
When birders go out on a boat to find seabirds, they call it a “Pelagic
Trip”. The tern “pelagic” actually refers to the part of the ocean
beyond the continental shelf edge. Only a few of the trips listed here
actually go past the shelf edge. Most trips are confined to the
continental shelf an area around the continents that during the time of
the glaciers was actually land.
Boats suitable for taking a group of people on the ocean are expensive
and since most birders have to work during the week they can only afford
to take a few trips a year. The owner of an expensive boat has to work
that boat as much as possible so there are no boats available for
pelagic birding trips exclusively. The boats used are usually party
fishing boats or whale watching boats.
Types of Pelagic Trips
Dedicated Birding Trips
An individual or a group charter a boat and the crew for a period of
time usually 1 -3 days. The captain of the boat is in charge, but
usually the leader has agreements with the captain about where the boat
will go, how long it will stay out, and what activities will go on.
Part of the contract with the captain may include fishing by the crew
from time to time. Fishing may be restricted to night time when most
birders are asleep. If fishing is allowed during the birding hours, it
may be a problem. It is hard to get a captain to move on to find birds
when one of the crew has a tuna “Fish On”. All fish caught belong
to the captain unless there is another agreement.
The Birding Group Joins a Whale Watch, Party Fishing Boat, or a Research
Dedicated trips are expensive and a certain number of participants must
sign up in order for the boat to be chartered. Some leaders will sponsor
a trip on a whale watch or other type of boat. Birders pay their own
fare and meet the leader on the boat. The leader has no say in where the
boat goes or how long it stays in one place. Individual birders may also
go solo and take a whale watch or other trip in order to see any birds
Expect the captain to do what will earn the most money for the boat. If
it is a whale watching boat and he finds a nice group of whales that he
knows will entertain the majority of his patrons he will stay on the
whales even if there are no birds around. He certainly will not decide
to burn more fuel searching for birds and making the majority of his
customers angry. The same is true for party fishing or research boats.
Pelagic Birding Directory
When a birder takes to traveling either on
vacation with the family or on business, he or she takes their
binoculars. Birders are always birders.
To help you with your wandering this web site provides links to groups
that organize pelagic trips. See the
Pelagic Birding Directory . Some of these sites are commercial sites
meaning the sponsor or organizer is making a profit on the trip. The
webmaster has been on some of these trips but not all. The most
important factor is the trip birding leaders. Usually if the same
trip is made every year or even several times a year you will find it to
be a good trip otherwise the leaders will not be able to persuade local
birders to pay for the expensive trip. Do your own
research and if you take a trip, send the webmaster email describing how
it worked out for you. Make reports to pelagic and state lists. Keep the
birding network going.
Your wandering may not always coincide with scheduled sponsored trips.
You may want to try a whale watch, party fishing boat or a ferry and take your
chances on seeing some birds. If you are in the New England area there
are whale watches from Provincetown and Barnstable on Cape Cod,
Plymouth, MA, Boston, MA, Gloucester, MA, Newburyport, Ma, Rye, NH and
Bar Harbor, Maine.
Watching Seabirds in New England
Seabird areas in New England an essay by Emmalee Tarry addresses the
question of why seabirds are not disbursed across all of the ocean, but
rather concentrated in certain areas. Seabird destinations in the Gulf
The Continental Shelf edge essay by Mike Gooley describes the
location south of Cape Cod where the depth of the ocean increases
sharply and the conditions that make it a favorable
destination for pelagic trips.
Winter comes to New England and shuts down pelagic birding trips.
It is time for hardy birders to try sea watches from shore.
Seasonal storms known as Nor'easters are a big aid to sea watches. See
Chris Genets essay of the impact of these storms.