MARINElife blog: DFDS ‘Delft Seaways’ Dover-Dunkirk 11 June 2016

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

Weather: Visibility: poor, 1-5km, cloudy, mist, dry. Sea State: 1-2. Swell: 0. Wind Force: 2-4. Wind Direction: NNE-ENE.

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 12
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 7
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 3
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 33
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 16
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 13
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 3
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 25
Gull sp. 24
Tern sp. 2

Travelling on the A20 to the Port of Dover, the channel looked magnificent and, though a little misty, the seas were calm and we looked forward to our survey with DFDS to Dunkirk.

We were escorted to the bridge by the friendly and helpful guest services staff, who introduced us to Captain Paul and his crew. We were made to feel very welcome and we observed their preparations for departure, which is always a privilege to see.

Grey Seal Steve McAusland 06a
Grey Seal (Archive photo: Steve McAusland)

We left Dover harbour and it wasn't long before the first birds were seen; Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Great Black-backed Gull and then our first cetaceans. Four adult Harbour Porpoise rolling slowly in the waves ahead of us and, as the sea was so calm, it provided us with fantastic views. What a great start! A Grey Seal was also seen bottling at the surface nearby.

As we travelled further across the Strait of Dover we had further sightings of Harbour Porpoise. An adult and juvenile 700 metres ahead and moving to starboard and a solitary animal moving very fast away from the bow with a few Gannet overhead.

Great Skua Rick Morris 01a
Great Skua (Archive photo: Rick Morris)

After a quick lunch and an efficient turnaround, the Delft Seaways left her berth in Dunkirk and began the journey back to Dover. This brought feeding terns, Cormorant, Lesser Black-backed Gull and a rafting Great Skua. Throughout the survey, we had observed a number of Grey Seal but, in particular, we saw one being harassed by gulls just in front of the bow and, as the ship drew closer, we could see the animal swimming underneath the surface to escape. When we looked to the back of the ship to see where it had surfaced, it was seen riding the waves created by the wake.

With the white cliffs of Dover barely visible in the mist, we were treated to two further Harbour Porpoise sightings; the first being a group of three animals 800 metres off the starboard side with circling gulls and the final one just before the entrance to the harbour, two animals 400 metres away. What a great survey!

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 17b
Harbour Porpoise (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

Huge thanks go to Captain Paul, his crew and the staff of DFDS Delft Seaways who took a great interest in our work and made it a very enjoyable and memorable crossing, and thanks to DFDS for their continuing support.