Sightings Archives: December 2016

MARINElife Survey Report: DFDS Seaways ‘Dunkerque Seaways’ Dover-Dunkirk 10 December 2016

Posted 16 December 2016

Joshua Stafford and Carol Farmer-Wright , Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Outbound: Sea state 4-3 with SW winds, foggy and cloudy.
Return: Sea state 3-4 winds SW to WSW, foggy and cloudy.

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin  Tursiops truncatus 5
White-beaked Dolphin  Lagenorhynchus albirostris 1
Harbour Porpoise  Phocoena phocoena 9
Common or Harbour Seal  Phoca vitulina 1

Common Scoter  Melanitta nigra 6
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet  Morus bassanus 303
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 3
Great Skua  Stercorarius skua 9
Common Gull  Larus canus 13
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 51
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 16
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 74
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 59
Guillemot  Uria aalge 18


We met up in the morning at Dover and boarded at around 10:00 getting straight up to the bridge. The survey started with sea state 4 as we left the harbour, with fog reducing visibility to around 1000 metres all day.

We initially recorded numerous gulls close to the port; however the first mammal sighting of the day was a Common Seal who watched the ship pass, he was followed quickly after by a pair of adult Harbour Porpoise which were seen surfacing about half way through the crossing by which time the sea sate had dropped to around 3.

Harbour Porpoise Graham Ekins 03
Harbour Porpoise (Archive photo: Graham Ekins)

Shortly after this sighting, there was another sighting of adult Harbour Porpoise followed by two more sightings on the final leg of the journey heading to Dunkirk.

The initially foggy conditions did not did not seem to affect the Lesser or Great Black-backed Gull, Gannet, Guillemot or Kittiwake which were often observed sitting or flying over the waves, with some of the Gannet recorded diving to hunt. By the time we reached Dunkirk we had seen every age category of Gannet possible, with some completely dark juveniles recorded which is suggestive of late breeding. Another highlight of the outward trip were the Great Skua's, which were recorded flying low over the waves, on the approach to Dunkirk we witnessed a kleptoparasitic incident where a Great Skua mugged another bird of its lunch, however it dropped the morsel into the water. It made a second pass to try and pick up for tasty bite but had to break off as we promptly sailed over its dinner.

Great Skua Mark Darlaston 01b
Great Skua (Archive photo: Mark Darlaston)

After a lovely lunch onboard the ship we started back for Dover, the wind had dropped after the hour stop in Dunkirk and the return journey proved to be just as eventful as the outward bound, within around 20 minutes of departing a group of 6 Common Scoter were recorded flying over the sea, two adult Harbour Porpoise passed within 300m of the ferry bringing our grand total up at this point to 8 animals.

After a Gannet and gull filled hour passed our next mammal sightings came in a great flurry, two adult Harbour Porpoise were recorded passing within 150 m of the vessel followed by 5 Bottlenose Dolphin and an adult White-Beaked Dolphin all within the space of 5 minutes, which suggest we may have passed a bait ball. The final leg of the journey was much less eventful with both Lesser and Great Black-backed Gull recorded alongside Gannet, Guillemot, Common Gull and Herring Gull. Overall a fantastic dolphin and porpoise filled trip.

WB Dolphin Carol Farmer Wright 01
White-beaked Dolphin (Archive photo: Carol Farmer Wright)

Our thanks go to the Captain Andy Ridout, the bridge officers and crew of the Dunkerque Seaways for making our survey so enjoyable and to DFDS for enabling us to survey on this very productive route.