MARINElife blog: DFDS 'Dunkerque Seaways' Dover-Dunkirk 2 August 2014

Carol Farmer-Wright and Aurelia Gabellini, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Outbound - sunny, good visibility, wind southwest force 6-4
Return - good to moderate visibility with mist on the English coast, wind southwest force 4-6

Summary of species seen:

Marine Mammals
Common Seal Phoca vitulina 1

Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 6
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 32
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 5
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 15
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 25
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 18
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 15
Skua sp. 1
Gull sp.   2
Tern sp. 23
Larus. Sp. 2

With schools now closed for the summer holidays the first weekend in August is a very busy one for the ferries operating across the English Channel. Bearing that in mind I allowed plenty of time to get to the Port of Dover for the noon sailing.

Our paperwork was processed quickly by the port staff and we were soon aboard the Dunkerque Seaways. We made our way to the Information desk and were quickly escorted to the bridge to begin our survey.

Gannet Carol Farmer-Wright 09
Gannet of various ages (Photo: Carol Farmer-Wright)

Sightings were initially slow. Small groups of Gannet passed close to the ship, the majority of the birds were immature between three and five years of age.

Kittiwake also appeared, these birds were predominately adult. As we neared the French coast Sandwich and Common Tern were seen, some going out to fish, others returning with sand eel in their beaks. The Sandwich Tern were transitioning into their winter plumage, the black caps of summer being replaced by white feathers with only black remaining behind the eye, giving them a somewhat sombre appearance.

Sandwich Tern Carol Farmer-Wright 02
Sandwich Tern entering winter plumage (Photo: Carol Farmer-Wright)

We then saw an Arctic Skua trying to get a meal from a Kittiwake. The skua kept harassing the smaller bird, encouraging it to regurgitate the food it had eaten. The aerobatic displays of these two birds were spellbinding. We reached the outer breakwater at Dunkirk and left the bridge. We remained on board the vessel whilst the ship was emptied and reloaded before the return leg to Dover.

The return leg was quiet, the main highlight was seeing a group of around 20 terns feeding less than 100 metres from our starboard bow. As we approached Dover, we collected our belongings and left the bridge having thanked the captain for a most enjoyable survey.

Our thanks go to Captains Slater and Ridout and their teams for their hospitality and interest, as well as to DFDS seaways for their continued support.