MARINElife blog: DFDS Seaways ‘Dunkerque Seaways’ Dover-Dunkirk 7 May 2016

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

Weather: Eastbound: wind ENE to SSE 2-6 sunny, dry with mist in western channel
Westbound: wind SSE to WSW 6-2 dry, mist in western channel

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 7
Unidentified seal species 1
Unidentified dolphin species 1

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 7
Gannet Morus bassanus 46
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Common Gull Larus canus 3
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 32
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 11
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 38
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 79
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 1
Common Tern  Sterna hirundo 15
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 15
Guillemot Uria aalge 6
Razorbill Alca torda 3
Unidentified tern sp. 11

Terrestrial birds
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 3
Feral Pigeon Columba livia 5

It was a beautiful sunny day for our survey and Tibor and I were welcomed aboard and invited to go to the crew's mess to have some lunch before the ship sailed. We were then escorted to the bridge where we were welcomed by the bridge crew and settled down to begin our survey.

We left harbour with still conditions. Visibility was only marred by the haze of air pollution that hung on the western side of the English Channel.  Bird recording began with Herring Gull of various ages predominating, with Razorbill, Kittiwake and terns in small numbers close to the Kent coastline. Seven minutes after leaving the outer breakwater, Tibor spotted our first marine mammal of the day, its movements so fleeting that we were unable to discern if it was a dolphin or a fast-moving Harbour Porpoise. We did record three Harbour Porpoise on our way to Dunkirk.

Harbour Porpoise Rick Morris 01a
Harbour Porpoise (Archive photo: Rick Morris)

We also saw a seal feeding amongst a group of gull, the former being too far away to positively identify. Midway across the English Channel Gannet, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Kittiwake were the main species recorded. The Kittiwake flew in an easterly direction towards the French coast appearing in ones and twos until thirty-four birds were flying in a group in front of the port bow. On arriving at Dunkirk we retired to the crew's mess to have an orange squash before the return journey.

LBB Gull Graham Ekins 06
Lesser Black-backed Gull (Archive photo: Graham Ekins)

The visibility was much better on the French side of the Channel and as we returned we started to record Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Great Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake and Fulmar. The Fulmar were having to work quite hard to fly as there was hardly a breeze to give them lift from the waves. Half an hour into the return journey Tibor recorded another Harbour Porpoise. By that time the air pollution that we had observed had returned but the sea state reduced to almost flat calm so our hopes of recording more marine mammals were raised. Within sight of the Dover outer breakwater we spotted three further Harbour Porpoise; a fitting end to our survey.

Sandwich Tern Rob Petley-Jones 01
Sandwich Tern (Archive photo: Rob Petley-Jones)

We would like to thank Captain Russell Smith, his officers and crew for looking after us whilst on board the Dunkerque Seaways and DFDS for allowing us to survey on their ships.