Saturday, May 19, 2012

Watching Cory’s shearwaters

Cory's shearwater (Calonectris diomedea)
This weekend I took part for the second year running in a Birdlife Malta boat trip to watch Cory’s shearwaters off Gozo. Seeing the enthusiasm of the participants while watching the shearwaters brought to my mind pictures I have seen of tourists watching whales in other parts of the world.

Whale watching is attracting millions of people worldwide. The first whale watching trips took place in 1955.

During that year 10,000 persons paid US $ 1 per trip to be able to get close to the whales. 

By 2008 the number of persons watching whales had risen to 13 million. It is estimated that these generated US $ 2.1 billion in tourism revenue annually.

Watching shearwaters in Malta offers an unforgettable experience that is probably as exciting as whale watching. The Cory’s shearwater, known in Maltese as Ċiefa, is a large bird that looks like a long-winged gull. It flies just above the water surface keeping its wings open to make the most out of air currents that form just above the water surface. It is well adapted for life at sea and approaches land only to breed. 

The Cory’s shearwater nests in colonies, usually under boulders or in crevices in undisturbed cliffs. During the day the colonies are very quite and one does not realize that hundreds of birds could be present close by. During the night the colony becomes alive with the loud calls of the shearwaters as these birds visit the nests to relieve their partner and after the eggs hatch to feed the young birds.

At least 5,000 pairs of Cory’s shearwater breed in the Maltese islands. The largest colony is found at Ta’ Cenc in Gozo.

Shearwater watching can become more popular in the Maltese islands and can even attract a good number of specialized visitors to the Maltese islands. Furthermore such activities can help to create more awareness about the Maltese natural environment. 

This article was published in The Times on 13/7.2011

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