MARINElife blog: DFDS Seaways "Cote des Flandres" Dover-Calais (17 August 2019)

Emma Howe-Andrews and Paul Radford, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Weather Conditions:
Dry, Scattered Clouds, Sunny Intervals, Sea State 3-5, Swell 1, Wind Force 4-7, Wind Direction SW-WSW

Summary of Sightings:

Marine Mammals:
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Unidentified Seal sp. 1


Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1

Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 5

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4

Diver sp. Gaviidae 1

Gannet Morus bassanus 22

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2

Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1

Gull sp. Laridae 17

Herring Gull Larus argentatus 3

Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 7

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2

Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 1

Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 8
Tern sp. Sternidae 2

We arrived in high spirits on a very busy Saturday morning at the Port of Dover for our survey across the Strait of Dover to Calais, France. Even though the weather was forecast to be unsettled and a little choppy due to the south-westerly winds blowing across the English Channel, we were keen to head out to sea and look for wildlife.

Whilst we waited to board the ship, we discussed the recent sighting of the Humpback Whale during another MARINElife survey that was undertaken in February and which Paul had been part of. We said that it would be amazing if that were to happen again today and one of the joys of conducting sea surveys is that you never know what you could encounter, so fingers crossed!

After a swift and efficient boarding, we headed to Deck 7 to the Guest Information desk and we were met by Christine, who was very friendly and welcoming. Christine escorted us to the bridge, and we were warmly greeted by Captain Des Frennes who made us feel very welcome and we settled into our workstation on the starboard side. The bridge crew are always so friendly and accommodating. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to observe their work. The Cotes des Flandres crew began the manoeuvres to leave the berth and turned the ship towards the mouth of the harbour.

Sandwich Tern Rob Petley-Jones 04Leaving the harbour and starting the survey, the conditions were favourable as it was dry with scattered clouds, a sea state 3 with a slight swell and good visibility to the horizon. As the ship increased speed and moved further out into the strait, the south-westerly winds were blowing at 23 knots and with this the sea state increased from 3 to 5 with an approximate 1.5 metre swell. Sightings of birds were almost immediate, Herring Gull, Sandwich Tern, Common Scoter, Gannet and a Great Skua, but no cetaceans as we approached the French coastline. We did see a bottling Grey Seal off the port bow that stared up at the Cotes des Flandres as she entered the Port of Calais.

Grey Seal Martin Gillingham 01

It was a quick turnaround in Calais and before we knew it, we were heading back to Dover. The weather had improved slightly for our return journey with a decreased sea state 4, sunny intervals and continuing good visibility. Bird sightings remained steady as we sailed away from the French coastline with Kittiwake, Black-headed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and a solitary Pomarine Skua moving across the bow. We were unable to determine which species it was, but a seal was seen milling 275 metres ahead of the ship on the starboard side and slipped beneath the waves as we approached.

With fifteen minutes left until we docked and the White Cliffs of Dover clearly visible, a circling Gannet caught our attention 310 metres ahead of the ship and as we observed it, two small triangular dorsal fins broke the surface beneath it. A mother and calf Harbour Porpoise, swimming hastily away from the ship and towards the starboard side. The calf was tiny and looked only a few weeks old as it swam awkwardly at its mother side, both rolling at the surface a few times before disappearing. The Gannet followed them and what a beautiful sight!

The sighting of the two Harbour Porpoise, two seals and plenty of birdlife had left us feeling elated and as the ship entered the Port of Dover, we said a massive thank you to the bridge crew and left them to complete their manoeuvres.

Huge thanks go to Captain Des Frennes, his crew, Christine and the staff of Cotes des Flandres for their kind hospitality, and to DFDS Seaways for their continuing support.

Sandwich Tern (Rob Petley-Jones)
Grey Seal (Martin Gillingham)