Monday, July 17, 2023

Oregon Inlet Departures Summer 2023 - Kate Sutherland

Ten years have passed since we last ran trips from Oregon Inlet, we had some issues with weather that caused us to head back to Hatteras to finish the set that year. We're very lucky to have two ports of departure we can use to get out to deeper waters offshore from Hatteras Island! While our trips in late summer from Hatteras are productive, the water gets really warm, and we have been itching to get back to the north where there is a nice interaction of the Gulf Stream with a cooler water current coming down from the north. The interaction of the cooler waters of the Labrador or Virginia Current meet the warm, sometimes hot, waters of the Gulf Stream and this causes nutrients carried in that cooler water to fall out creating what is called a deposition zone - and areas of high productivity. While the shelf break is a bit farther for us to the north, these temperature breaks coupled with the upwelling from the canyon areas can be a really interesting place in the late summer. In the image below you can see the inlets labelled and also the proximity to the shelf break which is the closest on the east coast!
This image from NASA shows how this warm water current travels along the southeastern US before being deflected to the northeast by the cooler current flowing from the north. 
The ecosystem created by the interaction of these water masses is incredibly dynamic and one of the reasons we run these seabirding trips from Hatteras.

Last year I began working with Duke Marine Lab doing research offshore from Oregon Inlet, covering some of these canyon areas and The Point to the east of Hatteras Island. I was pleasantly surprised how much life was up there compared to what we had been seeing south of Cape Hatteras over the past few years when the Gulf Stream comes up onto the shelf. Of note from 2022 were good numbers of both Leach's and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels plus excellent numbers of Black-capped Petrels and even a few Fea's / Deserta's Petrels and White-tailed Tropicbirds! Years ago we also ran our White-faced Storm-Petrel search trips up here, it is the best place for us to look for these charismatic little kangaroo birds. These images below are ones I captured on a trip from Hatteras in 2019, the second shows it with a Band-rumped Storm-Petrel.
East of Oregon Inlet can be a good place to see Black-capped Petrels, of course, and trips up here have also found Bermuda Petrels, Fea's / Deserta's Petrels, and Trindade Petrels. Our usual expectations for the summer should also be found here with good numbers of Cory's, Scopoli's, Great, and Audubon's Shearwaters plus some tropical terns! I just saw at least one Sooty Tern last week up there. Masked Booby is another possibility and hopefully we can turn up some jaegers and skuas as well. Tropicbirds are definitely in this area in the summer so there is the possibility to see White-tailed Tropicbirds and you never know...a Red-billed could show up as well. 

Non-avian highlights in this area include the deep diving Cuvier's Beaked Whales, or Goosebeaks as we like to call them. The males of this species have a diagnostic whitish coloration to their heads making them easy to spot at a distance and sometimes they can put on quite a show pushing out of the water before diving deeply to feed in the canyons just offshore of the shelf for over an hour! Here are a few images I captured in 2018, you can see the heavy scaring on the back which is different from the Gervais' Beaked Whales we see more often south of Hatteras (they scar dark!). 
It is always exciting to encounter them. We also could see Short-finned Pilot Whales, Offshore Bottlenose, Atlantic Spotted, and Risso's Dolphins. The temperature breaks can be good places to see Giant Manta just never know what you'll find offshore! This is true where ever you choose to take a trip to the deep, but we hope you'll join us this summer to see what we can discover east of Oregon Inlet and Hatteras Island!

This summer we have ten departures from Oregon Inlet (August 22 to 31 daily) in addition to our regular summer trips from Hatteras (August 4, 5, 18, 19). Pricing is the same for all trips - $210 for one space with a discount offered if you join multiple trips and pay by check or money order! More information about the trips can be found on our website: under Gulf Stream Trips and you can register for a trip by using the form on the Sign Up page. If you have questions of want to check availability please email me, Kate Sutherland, at I hope to see some of you aboard next month!

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