Annette Dutton; MARINElife/Balmoral WLO
Weather: Dry, warm and sunny, Sea State moderate, Wind slight
Summary of sightings:
Common Dolphin 80
Grey Seal 4
Harbour Porpoise 1
Greater Black-backed Gull
This was my first outing as WLO on the MV Balmoral and although I had been onboard before I had forgotten how big she was compared to the MS Oldenburg. It was warm and sunny when the Balmoral arrived at Ilfracombe from Penarth and Clevedon and many of the passengers got off to explore Ilfracombe before we boarded for the Lundy leg of the cruise.
I introduced myself to Tony, the Purser and once under sail I went to the Office to collect my Hi-viz jacket and to leave my belongings. By this time we were already heading towards Lee Bay and a passenger told me they had seen a dolphin which I presumed was a Porpoise as they are common along this stretch of the coast. Tony announced my presence onboard and the passengers were keen to hear about the work of MARINElife and what wildlife we may see on the voyage especially dolphins and seals.
For most of the journey all I spotted was a couple of Gannet as I made my way round the decks. It wasn't until we were about half an hour away from Lundy when I saw a large gathering of Gannet feeding off the Starboard side of the ship then suddenly we were surrounded by Common Dolphin including juveniles. The passengers were thrilled and we enjoyed the sight of them for a few minutes before they were gone although distant sightings of the odd one could still be seen.
Common Dolphin (Annette Dutton)
Shortly afterwards, there was another group of feeding Gannet and a smaller group of Common Dolphin swam over to see us. I spotted what I thought was a large seal in the water which on closer inspection turned out to be a Harbour Porpoise lifting its head out of the water. As we approached the landing stage I saw the line of Shag along the rocks and a couple of Grey Seal below them and another two in the water.
The passengers started to walk up to the village and as we only had an hour on the Island I managed to get a lift up to the village to give me more time to see what was about. I had noticed Gannet feeding off Mouse Island so headed up to Castle Keep to scour the sea for cetaceans and although there must have been over 40 Gannet I didn't see any.
Below me I could see a couple of seals in the bay and a Meadow Pipit flew down and sat on the wall next to me. It was soon time to wander back to the landing bay and I saw the Oldenburg in the bay and as I got further down she was making her way to the landing stage to join the Balmoral.
Oldenburg and Balmoral (Annette Dutton)
As both sets of passengers queued to board the vessels we were treated to the antics of a large bull Grey Seal by the rocks, I also noticed a couple of Manx Shearwater flying around by the Islands. The Oldenburg left before us and we soon followed, the sea was calm and the sun was shining so I was hopeful of more Dolphin sightings, then about 5 minutes after leaving Lundy I saw a large number of feeding Gannets and then a group of around 20 Dolphins swam around the boat then we had another visit after around half an hour but not as many.
Grey Seal (Annette Dutton)
There were regular sightings of Manx Shearwater with some bobbing about on the sea and as we neared Woolacombe Bay I was joined by a small boy who was asking lots of questions. As I was pointing out a group of Gannet to him we were joined again by a small group of Common Dolphin and more joined us as we passed Bull Point.
My last sighting was of a Kittiwake flying past as we started the approach to Ilfracombe Harbour passing the Oldenburg as we got nearer.
Several of the passengers came over to tell me what a great trip they had had and that the dolphins had made it extra special.
I said goodbye to Tony and thanked the crew as I made my way off the Balmoral passing the long queue of passengers waiting to go back to Clevedon and finally Penarth.
Annette Dutton; MARINElife/Balmoral WLO
Rick Morris; MARINElife/Balmoral Wildlife Officer (WLO)
Weather: Overcast with sunny spells Wind: Easterly 3-4 Sea State: 3-4
Common Dolphin 50+
Harbour Porpoise 4
Grey Seal 6
Lesser Black-back Gull
Great Black-back Gull
Razorbill (passenger sighting)
Sightings on Lundy:
It was an overcast morning when I arrived in Ilfracombe and the MV Balmoral was still on her way from Swansea, so I popped in for a chat with Jacqui in the shore office. The Balmoral arrived on time and after the passengers for Ilfracombe disembarked, I was greeted by Tony, Balmoral's purser.
Oldenburg at Lundy from Balmoral (Rick Morris)
We left Ilfracombe on time and Tony kindly made the announcement that I was onboard as the Wildlife Officer, this made it easier to talk to the passengers as I made my way around the outer decks. I had plenty of interest in what we may see and it never ceases to amaze me just how many people are unaware of the diversity of marine wildlife that can be found in our seas, so these Wildlife Officer trips really are a great way for us to engage and inform the passengers.
It was a fairly quiet start to the trip, with just a few Herring Gull, but then nearing the halfway point a passenger next to me on the starboard side said she thought she saw something come out of the water and to our delight it was a Harbour Porpoise and it obligingly resurfaced a couple of more times to give a few passengers a chance to see. I promptly made my way to the stern to inform those on the back deck, but by then the animal had disappeared. I returned to the bow and was informed by another passenger that another porpoise appeared briefly on the port side, but I did not see this one.
Seabird activity started to increase and we started seeing Gannet, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Lesser Black-back and Herring Gull and also small groups of Manx Shearwater. I looked intensely at the shearwaters as this time of year there's the possibility of seeing critically endangered Balearic Shearwater amongst them.
Manx Shearwater (Rick Morris)
Another 2 Harbour Porpoise around 150m distant went down the port side giving all great views before we arrived at Lundy. There were quite a lot of Shag feeding in the Landing Bay and a couple of female Grey Seal were seen 'bottling', checking us out!
The MS Oldenburg was moored on one side of the landing jetty and after we berthed I popped over to say hello to some familiar faces. I decided to jump in the Landrover with Rob (Lundy's manager) as we didn't have too much time up top. Here I met up with Lundy's warden, Beccy McDonald and after a quick catch up I popped over to the west side for a short walk to the quarter wall then across to the east side and back down through Milcombe Valley to the Landing Bay. Even though I only spent around an hour on top, I still managed to see a good variety of wildlife.
Reaching the Landing Bay, a number of Grey Seal could be seen as we waited for the 'Oldenburg' to depart and the 'Balmoral' to come onto the jetty. We left Lundy and within a few minutes we were spotting Gannet and Manx Shearwater and with the sea state improving the hope was we may see more Harbour Porpoise, but we did not, we did however encounter a large group of 50+ Common Dolphin as we neared Bull Point which was fantastic as everyone on board had excellent views of these beautiful animals, with lots of them coming into the bow and side of the boat. To me, moments like these are priceless as you see the shear enjoyment and pleasure on the faces of the passengers that these animals bring! I'm sure many will have gone home feeling elated having done this 'great day out on the MV Balmoral'.
Common Dolphin (Sharon Morris)
Upon reaching Ilfracombe, the 'Balmoral' was expertly berthed
and I made my way ashore saying my farewells as I left.
Balmoral (Rick Morris)
My thanks to Tony and the captain and crew of the MV Balmoral for all the help and support.
Rick Morris MARINElife/Balmoral Wildlife Officer (WLO)