Death on the beach, Palliser Bay.

It was mid arvo and the sun was fair bleating down as we drove around the Wairarapa coast road out towards the tiny fishing village of Ngawi.
I wondered where our adventures would take us today. The theme for today was to be about death and survival, the struggle for life.
Cruising along, Steve turned his attention to a road that lead down to a stretch of beach we had not yet investigated and commented that we should do so, so down the road we went.
You never know what to expect on the Wiararapa coast and as I popped my head over the sandy slope down to the surf I spied my first ever sea horse.

To see a larger sized pic, double click on all of the images
Horse and rider-1065-Edit

A beautiful horse was being exercised in the surf. The owner later told me that the horse had, suffered a terrible accident involving barbed wire fencing followed by a bad fall and the injuries were such that the vets had seriously considered putting the magnificent beast to sleep.

A battle over many months with a life threatening infection led the vet to admit it was beyond the capabilities of the antibiotics administered. The owners in a last desperate attempt to save their horse decided to take the beast swimming in the sea, hoping that a course of washing the wounds with salt water would help the situation and this proved to be the case.

For over period of about a month these people had loaded their horse and travelled many miles to this secluded stretch of beach and swam the Horse regularly, the result was that the ugly wounds were at last well on the way to healing.

Horse and rider-1057-Edit

Feeling uplifted by the success story we bid farewell to the lovely couple and their horse.

We noticed some frenzied action further down the beach in the form of a menagerie of birds working a boil up of Kahawai, a Trout like, sea running fish.
A boil up occurs when larger predator fish drive the smaller fish, in this case Herring to the surface of the water where they also become targets for the diving birds. Frenzied attacks continue from both sides until the schools of Herring eventually disperse, the action is always intense and this warranted our further investigation.

Kahawai chasing Herring
Kahawai chaseing Herring

A little background for the theme is warranted before continuing.
I make no bones about being a Bible believing Christian, I filter how I see the world around me through what I have learned from Gods word and I see no contradiction at all between Gods written word and the natural world around us.
The Bible tells us that before Adam sinned, the creation was perfect and without death and suffering. The Animals fed on vegetation and not on each other, man ate the herbs of the field.
But things changed, death and suffering entered the creation because of Adams sin, but God knew this was going to happen, He hopes that as we look around us, we see clearly the consequences of our actions in the natural world and understand that we are forever intimately connected to His creation and wrote the following to encourage us.
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now”
The drama that unfolded before our eyes over the next 3 hours proved just how true Gods Word is.
Survivals at all costs, eat or be eaten, no mercy shown, survival of the fastest, cleverest and the luckiest.
The first evidence of corruption (death) and decay to confront us was a pile of hacked up Shark bodies being jealously guarded by some resident Seagulls.


We hurried past the gruesome scene and made haste down the beach towards the action.
Seagulls and White fronted Terns skilfully wheeled and dived in a well-orchestrated dance of death picking up the Herring that had been driven to the water’s surface by the hungry Kahawai below.

White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata)-1103-Edit

Next the Arctic Skua or Parasitic Skua (Stercorarius parasiticus) grabbed our attention.

The Arctic Skua or Parasitic Skua, a first for me.
Skua is the Old Norse name for seagull.
Pomarine Skua (Stercorarius pomarinus) or Pomarine Jaeger-1169-Edit

These birds chased any other birds with a fish in their beak.

Arctic Skua or Parasitic Skua, (Stercorarius parasiticus) --4

This was the first time Ive come across this bird.
The Parasitic Jaeger is aptly named for the two main strategies it uses to get its food. The first half of the name refers to its habit of stealing food from other birds, termed “kleptoparasitism”. The second word comes from the German word for hunter, pointing to the predatory alter-ego of this aggressive and acrobatic bird of the high seas.

Arctic Skua or Parasitic Skua, (Stercorarius parasiticus) -

Jaegers spend the majority of their lives at sea, coming to land only to breed. Upon leaving their birthplace, many young birds will spend the entire first two years over Open Ocean before returning to the Arctic to nest. During the summer months in the northern hemisphere, Parasitic Jaegers breed across the Arctic polar region of the globe. In the Americas, they nest along the Alaskan coast and Aleutian Islands and across the tundra of northern Canada. They also nest in northern Europe and Asia.
At other times of the year, these migratory seabirds fan out across the oceans of the southern hemisphere.
These birds specialize in harassing other birds, relentlessly pursuing them in mid-air and forcing them to relinquish their food. Prime targets are the White Fronted Terns and Seagulls.

All along the beach front young Terns squawked loudly, waiting impatiently for a parent to return with a small fishy meal of some sort.
Returning parents must run the gauntlet of Skuas and if successful the noisy juvenile Terns gobbled up the hapless fish and continued squawking for the next one, the parent once again heads out into the thick of it.

White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata)-1295-Edit

Passed the Skuas a hard working White Fronted Tern heads for its young

White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata)-1240-Edit

After about 1.5 hours of frenetic activity it began to slow down somewhat, the birds were resting now on full stomachs but just as we were about to leave, a pod of Dolphins arrived on the scene.


The Hunters, (the Kahawai), had become the hunted and the sea erupted with desperately escaping fish in all directions.

Kahawai chaseing Herring

The Dolphins relentlessly worked the schools of Kahawai and Herring, driving them up and down the beach while we watched on from the shore line along with the happy well fed Terns.


Many of the Kahawai were now very close to shore and then when it seemed to be all over, the ultimate predator arrived with the roar of quad bike engines.
Kids leapt off the bikes with the ease that only the youth possess and spinners were hurled into the surf, often followed by immediate hook ups, the Kahawai were winched ashore, man had arrived.

this fish is Foul hooked, the fish were winched out onto the beach, Man had arrived.

Most Kahawai were released back into the surf and both adults and the kids turned the beach into a colourful, loud hive of activity.

The sun sulked lower in the sky, eventually less Kahawai were there for the taking and slowly people started departing for home.


What I had experienced was 3-4 hours of death and survival, peace descended, it was time to move on like the rest of the participants in the drama so the long trudge back up the beach to the car beckoned, at home, a computer hungry for new images and a bottle of red wine awaited me. The mighty Skuas were a first for me, I was happy and content, another day spent in my favourite office.
For those interested in Biblical creation issues I’ve included links regarding the problem with evil and death from CMI.
and some rebuttals that may prove interesting.

7 thoughts on “Death on the beach, Palliser Bay.

  1. scrapydo

    This must have been a wonderful 4 hours of photographing and enjoying the experience with these predators preying on each other. Thanks for sharing both parts,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.