MARINElife blog: DFDS Seaways “Côte des Flandres” Dover-Calais (23 September 2017)

Tibor Beetles, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Sea state 1-2, high cloud cover, calm to light breeze turning North to South, visibility hazy 10-15km

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5

Grey Seal Halichoerus gypus 2

Cormornt Phalacrocorax carbo 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 56
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 4
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 7
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 7
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 2
Tern Species 1
Gull Species 11
Auk Species 1
Diver(Loon) Species 2

I was very pleased to be surveying on the Cote des Flandres as the last survey was back in March and I had not personally completed this route before. Check-in and boarding was very quick, and I was the first car aboard the ferry to enable me to park pointing the right way for my return journey! I was escorted up to the bridge and greeted by the friendly French crew, who shared some stories of whales they'd seen on a Bay of Biscay route, and quite regular sightings of dolphins in the Channel.

Harbour Porpoise Graham Ekins 02Before even leaving the berth and commencing the survey I saw my first marine mammal, a large Grey Seal eating a big fish just a hundred metres from the ferry! Once underway and clear of the harbour entrance, I started the survey and was pleased to record almost perfect environmental conditions - a flat calm grey sea and good cloud cover. Within twenty minutes of leaving Dover I saw my first Harbour Porpoise, its small dorsal clearly showing dark against the calm grey sea.

Cormorant Peter Howlett 01Across the Channel, I saw a few Gannet, a Great Skua and a lone Guillemot in winter plumage rafting on the water. Closer to France there was a light haze but I was pleased to spot another couple of Harbour Porpoise, before a small group of Common Scoter took off from the water and flew right across the bow. As we neared Calais I also recorded Great Black-backed and Black-headed Gull, and Cormorant.

After a speedy turnaround, I again spotted a Grey Seal just outside Calais harbour, bottling high out of the water. There were a few more gulls and cormorants as we left Calais, but not long after leaving I was excited to see two divers, possibly Great Northern, flying quite high in front of the boat following the coastline. Shortly after I also saw my last two Harbour Porpoise of the day, swimming together in the shallow waters.

The wind had dropped further, and the vast majority of the birds sighted were Gannet of varying ages, often rafting on the calm water with a few actively searching for food and a couple diving for fish. Closer to Dover, a variety of gulls appeared, along with a couple of Kittiwake and another lone Guillemot.

Thanks again to Captain Julian and the whole team at DFDS and the Cote des Flandres for letting me survey this short but very productive route and I'd definitely recommend this to other researchers.

Harbour Porpoise (Graham Ekins)
Cormorant (Peter Howlett)