Several years ago on a birding tour, Ricardo Matus and I noticed some “Wilson’s” Storm-Petrels while crossing on the ferry to Chiloe Island. They looked odd! They were strikingly contrasting, with bright white upperwing bars, and seemingly extensive pale on the underwing – wear perhaps? As we watched, Ricardo mentions that they also had white bellies…really? Not possible, we must have just gotten a bad look, as is often the case when you see a bird from a boat. But then things got interesting! Very soon after an Irish and American group of birders see up close, and photograph these storm-petrels, and they are indeed different – it wasn’t a bad look after all. To read their early account of this discovery, noting also that Peter Harrison had seen these odd stormies in the 80s, click on the link from Scilly Pelagics, informally they become the “Puerto Montt Storm-Petrels” named for the largest city and port near the area in which they were seen.
Then things get serious! At that point Peter Harrison formed a team to go and capture these birds, measure them and collect as much data as possible from them. I get out to do the museum work in NY, measuring and clarifying how they relate in morphology to the other closely related species. Once we were convinced that we had enough data, we decided to publish and create name for the creature. Well, I am excited to announce that our multi-national team headed by Peter Harrison has just published the description of this new species of Storm-Petrel from Chile, the Pincoya Storm-Petrel (Oceanites pincoyae) in the latest issue of the Auk! To download a copy of the paper, click here on Pincoya Storm-Petrel Description, to obtain a pdf. This is the first brand new storm-petrel to be described in 90 years, not a cryptic species that was split, but something altogether new that had gone unnoticed!
What is a Pincoya? That link will take you to an artist’s rendition of the Pincoya. She is a major figure in Chilotan (Chiloe Island) mythology, and has been described in this way: “This goddess of extraordinary beauty personifies the spirit of ocean and shore. The abundance or scarcity of the marine harvest depends upon this lovely creature. Pincoya rises from the depths of the sea, half-naked, draped in kelp and dances on beaches or wave tops. When facing the open sea in her dance there will be an abundant harvest of seafood. However if she turns her face towards the land there will be a want of food.
If the scarcity is prolonged due to the absence of Pincoya it is possible to entice her back by magic ceremonies conducted by witches or magicians. Pincoya is so beautiful, sensual and attractive that she makes fish swim with their mouths open. Pincoya comes to the aid of shipwrecked islanders and at times fishermen come across her amongst the rocks combing her long red or blond hair.”
And what is left? Plenty. The team has genetic material of the Pincoyae, and preliminary results are interesting to say the least. We also have to determine now where they breed and how many there are. This is a busy part of the sea, with much human influence, as it is a sound rather than open ocean where they choose to live. The next steps are to determine its status and begin the process of securing that the Pincoya can keep on dancing as she looks at the sea for ever!
With great excitement!!!!! Alvaro