MARINElife blog: DFDS Seaways "Cote des Dunes" Dover-Calais (18 January 2020)

Stephen Hedley and Pat Hatch, Research surveyors for MARINElife

Marine Mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 4
Unidentified Seal sp. 1

Seabirds
Auk sp. Alcidae 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 38
Common Gull Larus canus 36
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 14
Gannet Morus bassanus 267
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 14
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 56
Gull sp. Laridae 716
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 119
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 44
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3

Upon boarding the Cote des Dunes, we were quickly shown to the bridge, where we were welcomed by the Captain and crew. Sea conditions appeared favourable, which was a relief after the recent coming and eventual going of Storm Brendan, although visibility was to be hampered a little by a strong glare off the starboard bow on the outward leg of the survey.

Stephen ran through the recording forms with me before we left and pointed out the relevant bridge instruments to consult for readings of ship's speed, wind direction and the like. As a newbie, it was good to have a refresher on recording procedure just before we got underway.

Soon we were off on my first MARINElife survey, recording from the moment we left the harbour. Gulls prevailed at first but we spotted our first Gannet within two minutes, our first of many as it turned out. Fifteen minutes later, the gull count had reached four species, including some Kittiwake, the first Guillemot had put in an appearance, along with Cormorant and more Gannet. I was temporarily absorbed by the sight of a Great Skua cruising across our path, one of the highlights of the trip for me.

Great Skua Peter Howlett 01

Great Skua (Peter Howlett)

Out in mid-channel, Gannet were in the ascendency and the sea state had risen somewhat (from 2 to 3), with a few whitecaps but no great swell, at about one metre. As we neared the French coast, Stephen spotted our first marine mammals - two Harbour Porpoise and a Grey Seal in the space of ten minutes. Gulls appeared in large numbers with many following a ferry leaving the Calais and a few more Guillemot were also recorded.

A brief pause in Calais allowed time for some close observation of the gulls flying around the harbour and some useful revision of their various winter and immature plumages while the ferry was swiftly unloaded and loaded up again.

Kittiwake Peter Howlett 03

Kittiwake (Peter Howlett)

Heading back out to sea, viewing was now easier with the sun behind us. Otherwise, conditions remained more or less stable throughout the trip, with wind speed and direction, sea state and swell varying little.

The general pattern of seabird distribution was repeated, with gulls giving way to Gannet and Kittiwake then back to other gulls as we neared Dover, along with a good number of Guillemot, mostly flying by in ones, twos or threes. While still in mid-channel, a pair of Harbour Porpoise were spotted close to the ship, while, further inshore, an unidentified seal briefly bobbed up before the bow before quickly disappearing.

Thanks to Captain Paquet, his bridge officers and other crew for their hospitality.