MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Ilfracombe to Lundy 31st August 2016

Annette Dutton; MARINElife/Balmoral WLO 
Dry, warm and sunny, Sea State moderate, Wind slight

Summary of sightings:
Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin 80
Grey Seal 4
Harbour Porpoise 1

Greater Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Manx Shearwater

Terrestrial birds
House Martin
Meadow Pipit

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 1_Annette Dutton

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 & Balmoral 1

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 04

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