Surveyors: Camille Burton/Nuala Campbell
Day 1 | 01.10.19
The first day at a new job is always a nervous one but an abandon ship drill on top of that! Luckily, I am partnered with the understanding, warm and hilarious Nuala, who unfortunately will have to put up with me and my million questions (as this is my first time living and working at sea) for the next 4 weeks. Poor lady! She has already agreed to take me under her wing as a seabird and cetacean surveyor and set to work going through protocols and methods after breakfast with me. This is followed by the drill and us newbies to the Endeavor putting on emersion suits… seals would have a hard time distinguishing us for one of their own! The first transect starts just as lunch is served and I scoff down some potatoes before arriving with my clip board and binoculars. Not many birds to report other than a few Guillemots and a juvenile herring gull mobbing a kittiwake (Nuala's favourite bird). I do however spot a harbour porpoise but only for a fleeting moment, a lucky find in slightly choppy weather due to their small and quiet nature. The transect is a short one, only lasting two hours by which time my stomach is not 100% happy and I pray for the day I find my sea legs (though I know the worst of the weather is yet to come!). Early finish and an evening off.
Day 2 | 02.10.19
A beautiful sunrise to start of a lovely day sailing with calm waters and blue skies. Before the transect began short beaked common dolphins played in the wake and I was able to capture some good shots of the dolphins and gannets soaring around the boat! Nuala and I are getting to know the crew and asking lots of questions so to familiarise ourselves.
Day 3 | 03.10.19
The weather is worsening as storm Lorenzo closes in. Grey ominous skies followed by rain lashing at the windows, made observing difficult! We got to play with the wipers though not very effective! I feel a little wobbly, while Nuala stands strong with hardly any breaks through the survey. As the team haul the catch onto the boat huge flock of gannets bombard the catch, diving in with a pod of common dolphins playing around the boat again. The birds soar effortlessly on the high winds. One of the crew members spots a seal though it goes under before I can identify what species it was.
Day 4 | 04.10.19
Today is a lazy day as the storm has hit and I wake to the sight of land outside my porthole. The Endeavor has been anchored in the leeway of Lundy, surrounded by other cargo ships to shelter from the worst of the weather. Instead I, Nuala and 3 other PhD students get a tour round the engine rooms by the chief engineer. It takes one and half hours to see just some of the rooms and I am staggered by the shear size and complexity of the engine! My mind is not electrically or mechanically wired at all so most of what he was explaining went right over my head, but Nuala seemed to understand it more with her time spent working in the underground. Around 16:00 we head out to test the sea and an announcement from the captain to secure our bunks spurs me to take a pre-emptive sea sickness tablet.
Day 5 | 05.10.19
Today the transect takes us over a patch of water teeming with fish (so the fish finder says) and so the team carry out 3 fish surveys, attracting great numbers of diving gannets. The highlight of the day was however the short but incredible sight of Blue fin tuna. Nuala first spotted a few unusual splashes and white water trailing behind and sure enough I could make out the finlets of the tuna breaking the surface of the water. Not enough time to capture it on camera unfortunately!
Day 6 |
A full day of surveying with two back to back transects off the coast of N Coast of Cornwall and past Lundy. With the wind quietening down throughout the day and the density of bait fish increasing on the fish finder, there are a few hours of buzzing activity. Diving gannets, kittiwakes circling round the Endeavor in their 10s and straight lines of guillemots criss-crossing across the bow of the ship. The seabird activity seems to attract dolphins as shortly after there are many schools of 10 or more common dolphins coming in from all angles continuously for over an hour. They play in the wake of the ship, calves sticking closely to their mothers as they effortlessly jump in unison. Sadly, I spot a gannet with an orange float caught up around its leg as it flew with it trailing. This seemed to attract a Skua (most likely a great skua) which was mobbing it.
Day 7 | 07.10.19
Two transects today, with a couple of bulky Great Skuas spotted. Not much bird activity compared to the other day and spotting was made difficult with extremely poor visibility due to fog and rain. The highlight of the day was a pod of 20 Bottlenose dolphins swimming slowly towards the port side of the Endeavor before diving under and not returning. They were darker and much bulkier looking than the Commons we have been sighting a lot and an agreement from the rest of the crew of their larger size made me conclude they were indeed bottlenose.
Day 8 | 08.10.2019
The wind has picked up again and with the ship rolling and spray hitting the windows, the visibility was very low. Again, many common dolphins playing in the ship's wake, and at one point even more dolphin activity than seabird (which makes a change!). We also have a mystery chubby looking passerine species to identify later when we can trawl through the bird book. It looked rather unhappy and struggling to land on the ship with the wind so high. The sea was too rough to fish so three back-to-back transects ends up setting off my seasickness and Nuala bravely finishes off the last couple of hours. The crew and other scientists onboard however were very supportive and check up on me throughout the evening to see how I was getting on.
Day 9 | 09.10.2019
A quiet start to the transect, with the daily dawn visit of common dolphins. The wind and swell have died down a little so fishing commences, and we are off duty for a couple of hours. I use this time to investigate the fish lab and watch a CEFAS member set up his plankton survey. As we resume the survey we start to see the Scilly Isles in the distance until the rain and mist set in. Unusually quiet survey with hardly any bird or cetacean activity but a huge catch on the last trawl of the day. I enjoy helping sort the fish out, separating the pilchard, mackerel and anchovy into different baskets. No barrel jellyfish luckily, as apparently, they reek!
Day 10 | 10.10.2019
Large signatures of fish on the fish finder gets the fishing crew excited, and they do a trawl in the morning which interrupts our survey transect. A lovely little wagtail hitches a ride and poses for a picture. We survey till sunlight hours are over which is around 7pm. Not much marine activity today.
Day 11 | 11.10.2019
A grey start to the morning ends with an exciting sighting of 25 bottlenose dolphins! As they make their way closer to the ship, I can appreciate how much larger and bulkier they are compared to common dolphins. They also seem to fully breach a lot less than common dolphins which makes getting a clear shot of them much more difficult, but I manage to capture a couple fully out of the water out of the many useless pictures of splashes. Roughly 4 couples were of mothers and calves, swimming closely together and mirroring each other's moves. The rest of the day is quiet and an earlier finish due to fishing.
Day 12 | 12.10.2019
Finally, calm waters with hardly any swell! The first day of flat waters is well overdue, and we are all very thankful for it. This morning we are on transect 45, heading over to France, which is apparent as the voices on the radios become increasingly French dominated. We cross over what seems to be a shipping route as there are many container ships crossing our transect for an hour. There is also a huge increase in the number of flotsams we record compared to relatively little on the previous transects. Arctic Skuas and Great Skuas are showing up more often, and our first greater backed gull. Gannets are the most common as usual, however is it very apparent the shift from guillemots around the Pembrokeshire coastline to Skuas in the channel. A Kittiwake in winter plumage soars continuously round the ship for me to capture a picture of it.
Day 13 | 13.10.2019
It is the day before we have our day on land, and I am so excited for it. It is also the last day with this team of crew members. I was sad to see them gone as I have grown used to them and spent many hours on the bridge with some that we had formed a good working relationship, they have had to get used to me asking many questions about the equipment and workings of the ship! We spot an unusual flotsam of what seems to look like a red plastic kids goal post, seen in the picture. The weather was incredible, and everyone is in high spirits as the first half of the survey draws to a close.
Day 14 | 14.10.2019
A day on-shore at Falmouth, so we could have a ship's crew change. I arose early (5am) to farewell the exiters. The crew have been really supportive and friendly.
We are hoping for better weather and some good sightings in the next couple of days. The Shipping Forecast is promising.
One lesson we MARINElife surveyors have learnt is that during the choppy seas, using a Range-finder stick in a high swell is impossible. A good thing that the extremely experienced Bridge crew have a great eye for estimating distance in nautical miles!
Day 15 | 15.10.2019
It is the first day with the new crew and the captain is very chirpy at such an early hour! It is a beautiful day of sunshine and a gentle breeze, so gentle that we can rate the sea state as a 1 (ripples) for the first time! In daylight hours, the transect began at 07:48 with the light, within a minute we began sighting birds, Gannets, Skua, both Great and Pomarine and Lesser Black Backed gulls, during the day we had Guillemot and Kittiwake in Winter plumage; Shag and a lone Pigeon. We fish twice which brings in the gannets and gulls in their 100s and two Skuas chase the other seabirds for their catch, as captured in my pictures. In the time between 17:31 until the light failed at 18:35 we finally sighted and logged 14 Common Dolphins, including two calves.
What a beautiful day… It made Camille, my fellow surveyor, very happy. Camille really does not feel good in rough seas. Sun, calm waters and an excellent view of the Devon coastline of red Sandstone cliffs and beautiful bays. Plenty of Common Dolphin and a Harbour Porpoise spotted by the keen-eyed Camille, alas outside the transects, so cannot be logged. Great Skua, Fulmar, Gannet and a return of many Guillemots, who have been missing from our sightings for the last few days. We had hoped to sight White Beak Dolphin, reputed to be seen in this area, but no joy.
Day 16 | 16.10.2019
A lie in!? The fish team are starting at sunrise, so we have a one off lie in and a slow start, though Nuala is up bright and early as usual! We are still in the Lyme Bay area but surprisingly don't see a single dolphin while on transect, which must be a first. However, the seabird activity was intense, with 50 or so gannets and gulls following the boat post trawl for hours. In the last hour of survey there are two tantalising splashes, far too big for a gannet but certainly no signs of dolphins. I put it down as a possible Tuna sighting, but it was difficult to say for sure.
Day 17 | 17.10.2019
A short day for us, but much sampling going on by the crew. We have developed a great respect for the crew; the collaboration between the ships seafarers and the scientists is brilliant. Watching the nets being pulled in during heavy seas and the team work on the deck is truly impressive. A real bonus for us is the glorious sunrise and sunsets.
Day 18 | 18.10.2019
Another busy surveying day, and a test of our sea-legs in high
swells. A lovely sight was the lighthouse of Le Grand Le Jon, the
buildings of these lighthouse structures we have sailed past has
been awe-inspiring, their legacy is still with us. The crossing of
the territorial line between British and French waters was not
productive in cetacean sighting. However, along with a passerine
hitch-hiker, we did see Gannet, Lesser Black Backed, Guillemot and
a Shearwater species, that we think were probably Sooty Shearwater.
Dark and stiffly skimming over the water, the swell and poor light
made a positive ID difficult.
Day 19 | 19.10.2019
Heavy rain made our 1st section of the transect difficult, the Shearwater pair we suspect are Sooty made another appearance, they are said to appear in stormy weather which seems to support the ID. Very few other species out of the ordinary, but by the time we resumed the transect a couple of Great Skua, Gannets flying and resting on the water, and two Lesser Black Backed Gulls. We also had passerine fellow travellers, though much concentration was spent on sighting and logging, rather than research of the tiny ones. We have been very careful not to 'double-count' and keep a note of the birds flying with the ship or just resting on the gantry. Again, no cetaceans made an appearance.
Day 20 | 20.10.2019
Today began fairly calm, though the wind and waves soon picked up. By the end of the watch we had full cloud cover and rolling waves with high spray.
We sighted many familiar species, Gannets, juvenile gull, Kittiwake, Lesser Black Backed Gulls, Guillemot and very unusual, a conclave of Great Skua, 6 in flight and one resting on the water. You can be sure we checked that no double counting occurred. We also had a passenger Pied Wagtail with the ship and off transect a Long-tailed Tit…
Our day began at 07:41 at dawn that gets later each day. And across the Channel it also gets quieter in terms of sightings. More rolling waves and white wave caps, though the swell height never rose above 2 metres. We finally called a halt at 18:15hrs (BST) when the light failed and the sun descended below the horizon. We did sight a total of 23 Common Dolphin which gave us a good boost. Be aware that many of our photos of birds and dolphin are taken off Transect, as during the logging period we are too busy logging Effort and sightings.
Day 21 | 21.10.2019
The highlight of today was most definitely the incredible Bluefin Tuna sighting! Unfortunately, Nuala was having a break but there were 3 sightings of these impressive fish, one of which was just meters from the boat! I didn't manage to get a photo of them beaching as I was too busy enjoying the moment. All the scientists rushed up to the bridge for a sunset off the Lizard, Cornwall, with gannets diving into what I presume was a bait ball while the dolphins and Tuna corralled them. There were also 37 Common dolphins throughout the day, some of which were associated with Gannets.
I was surprised when I awoke to have travelled from being over off Lyme Bay to being back off lands end. This was also exciting as this is where we have been sighting a lot more wildlife and with the previous storms gone (which inhibited sightings) we were on high alert for cetaceans. As photographed above a chaffinch has set up camp on the bridge wings and stay with us for a few hours.
Day 22 | 22.10.2019
After last night's excitement and perfectly flat waters we are both on lookout for Tuna. Conditions make sightings perfect and Nuala gets a shot of them on camera before I have even finished having my breakfast! I also see signs of Tuna but too far to photograph, just many large splashes in the distance. Highlight of the day, other than the absence of a swell… Minke whales finally! I first observe a dark large shape breaking the surface and then the fin, so much larger than the dolphins nearby! However, the lack of blow and smallish size for a whale means it was most probably a Minke. Throughout the day we see a total of 61 common dolphins, 4 Minke whales (one mother and calf!), 2 groups of Bluefin Tuna. Seems Cornish waters are boasting the most wildlife! The day ends with a spectacular sunset with dolphins all around.
Day 23 | 23.10.2019
Our transects today run from South to North, one off Portscatho and another roughly 20km to the east. A busy morning for Common dolphin sightings and a probable seal spy hoping! Lots of Gannets and Guillemots resting on the water, they must like the calm waters just as much as I do! Fishing interrupts the transect a couple of times which gives us time to input the data. There is news of the winds picking up later but luckily for just 12 hours to my relief, surveying has been so much more pleasant and successful with the lack of swell! In the sunset we get another couple of Blue fin Tuna sightings! I get so excited whenever I see them, and rush to get my camera. I manage to get a picture of one fully breached but it is so far away and the light low that the shot is very grainy unfortunately. An exciting way to end the day, with of course a beautiful pink and flame orange sunset.
Day 24 | 24.10.2019
A gloomy start to our final transects in Cornwall, finishing just east of Plymouth. The winds have picked up and we have mist for an hour or so making sightings difficult. Apart from the start where the ship has a mixed group of 60 or so gannets and gulls the day is quiet. Bird sightings pick up in the evening as we head closer to land but with only one short encounter with common dolphins. I did however see some strange splashes and what looked like 5 white fins cutting through the water but the straining to see through binoculars eventually dried my contact lenses out and I lost them! However, I think they were tuna cutting the water and the reflection from it as dolphins would have come more out of the water.
Day 25 | 25.10.2019
We are back over in French waters with the first transect starting off the coast of Saint-Pol-de-Leon. A new species of gull is spotted, resembling a Kittiwake but lacking any black wind tips and a bright white in colour. We decide it is a Mediterranean gull in winter plumage. A great shearwater is also spotted, it has a powerful flight in the stormy conditions as it dips a wing downwards. The second transect is off Lannion and some Common dolphins join us to bow wave ride. I however start to feel seasick by the evening and retreat to my cabin as Nuala finishes off the day.
Day 26 | 26.10.2019
The research/survey voyage is nearly over, and we are carrying out the final two transects in French waters across to Exeter. Rough seas on today's Transect slammed us and our equipment about a bit. All areas of the ship, even though secured, had breakages and spills. For the second time in the month's trip, we cut the route and are making our way to shelter. This time in the lee of Lyme Bay in Devon.
I am so happy I was chosen for this project, a privilege and an educational experience. I can sight a Gannet at 2km, by behaviour as well as colour. I can confidently ID many more species of seabirds AND a few passerine unknowns to me before we started. I really understand the joy people find in leaping, playful Dolphins, and am happy to have sighted Minke Whales.
We have been listening to many sailors' tales, I confess I still don't really understand why Rabbits must not be mentioned aboard a ship… but Red Sky at Dawn - Sailors warn, certainly rings true. Today's sunrise surely heralded some huge swells.
Both crews have been fantastically helpful, and this section's ship's Cook is a magnificent baker. We MarineLife surveyors have nominated him for a company merit award. Fingers crossed! The Engineers mended my broken spectacles, the Science Technician rebooted my lap-top and the Bridge officers have helped us estimate sighting distances. The Scientists have shared knowledge and included us in cake and sweetie sharing too!
Even if I never get the chance for another such Research/Survey
trip, this will live in my heart as a high point.
Day 27 | 27.10.2019
After yesterday's "big roll" and early finish there was thankfully a shift in wind direction and the Endeavour resumed the transect it fled from with some fishing in the middle. There are less seabirds than usual and just a few pods of dolphins crossing the bow, all coming from the same direction… perhaps it was just one pod spread out or multiple pods following each other. It is our last full day on the Endeavour, and I have time to reflect on how much I have learnt on this trip. I can now identify seabirds from a far, especially gannets as they have most definitely been our most sighted bird, thanks to the wonderful Nuala teaching me. As a recently graduated zoologist I know how important and what a brilliant opportunity this has been for the start of my career and hope to come on surveys like this in the future.
All photos copyrighted to Camille Burton/Nuala Campbell/MARINElife