MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Swansea to Lundy 26th July 2017

Peter Howlett; Wildlife Officer for MARINElife
Wind: SW 5-6, occ. rain at first brightening later, sea state 5-6

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise 2

Manx Shearwater
Balearic Shearwater
Storm Petrel
Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull

I drove to Swansea through some pretty appalling conditions but fortunately the worst of the rain passed through quickly and the journey south from Swansea to Ilfracombe was largely dry with just occasional drizzle/light rain. Unfortunately, the wind was quite strong so the sea was a bit lumpy for picking up cetaceans - although I did harbour hopes that the winds might push the odd Great or Cory's Shearwater into the Bristol Channel as there had been good numbers seen in the southwest a few days earlier.

Swansea pilot Beaufort Peter Howlett 01

Swansea Pilot (Peter Howlett)

We left Swansea to the dramatic sight of the Swansea pilot launch punching its way through the waves behind the Balmoral. Seabirds were immediately in evidence with a few Manx Shearwater seen weaving their way across the waves heading down channel. The weather conditions kept most passengers off the upper decks so there were only a few hardy souls to point these avian wanderers out to. Disappointingly there were relatively few birds to be seen for much of the journey, the highlight being a sole Storm Petrel. The sole cetacean sighting came just as we turned to enter Ilfracombe, with a solitary Harbour Porpoise surfacing briefly alongside the Balmoral.

The weather also put paid to our onward journey to Lundy, with the Captain making the quite obvious decision that the conditions were too rough to continue. The afternoon was spent perusing a few of the many cafes around the harbour with the occasional look off shore which on one occasion turned up two Harbour Porpoise, a mother and calf, making their way down channel.

The return journey was quite lumpy with the highlights being another Storm Petrel and a Balearic Shearwater in amongst the scattering of Manx as we made our way back. Other seabirds included numerous Gannet, the occasional Fulmar and Kittiwake and quite a few adult Guillemot accompanied by their youngsters - unfortunately no Great or Cory's Shearwater deigned to show themselves during the trip. A sole Harbour Porpoise spotted in amongst the waves was the only cetacean sighting of the return trip.

Manx Shearwater Peter Howlett 17

Manx Shearwater (Peter Howlett)

The light was fading as we made our way towards Swansea off the Gower coast and even though wildlife was no longer visible it was audible with the plaintive piping of young Guillemots calling to their parent ringing out across the sea.

Many thanks to White Funnel and the crew of the Balmoral for supporting our work and I look forward to my WLO outing next week and hope the weather is a little kinder.