When we are out at sea, exploring our amazing coast, we are always conscious of the endless eastern horizon, that great expanse of ocean; (yes, I know the Mediterranean is just a “sea”, but it is, in fact, enormous, and gives me the same feeling as looking across the Atlantic from Orkney used to do!). We do get to peek under that endless surface, when we are snorkelling around the coastal rocks, but once further out, it is hard to get any real sense of what goes on, under or over the water, as we constantly look eastwards, and generally, see nothing.
But, sometimes, it is different. One day recently, we watched a trawler coming into Port Vendres: they had obviously had a catch, and were gutting the fish. The boat was followed by a great crowd of gulls, but there were other birds, too, which must have been lured from much further out than we normally venture, as we very rarely, or never, see them. There were several young gannets, in various shades from dark blue-grey to blotchy white, but there were also birds belonging to a family which we immediately recognised from our (Scottish) West Coast background. These were, clearly, shearwaters, wonderful birds, which wander the oceans of the Earth, only coming ashore to breed. We had once before seen members of this family here: the Greater Shearwater, large and handsome, but these birds were smaller, plainer, if equally brownish in contrast to the blue-black of the Manx with which we are so familiar. They have to be Balearic Shearwaters, which breed on the islands of the same name, but wander the Mediterranean from Greece westwards, and even may be seen at times around the British Coast and in the North Sea. This we discovered once home; on this day we were just happy to watch their characteristic looping flight, as they described figures-of-eight around the trawler.
And yesterday we were enjoying the slightly turbulent water around Cap Béar. Here we briefly saw another of the shearwaters, and then, ahead of us, a rather wobbly, tall fin. Intrigued, we hastened towards it, and for a quick moment, had a good view of one of the strangest creatures of the sea. It was a sunfish. These, to be honest, look to me like one of Nature’s jokes, as it seems simply like the front half of a fish, which has unfortunately lost its rear end. I would have to admit that in the water it did not look quite as weird as in some of the photos you see. We did not have long to admire it, no time to get the cameras out, as it was obviously aware of the presence of the boat, and submerged quite quickly. It seems they can grow to great size – some being over three metres in length – but ours was probably about one metre. Its diet apparently consists of jellyfish, of which as a swimmer who does not wear a wetsuit, I can only approve!