Stephen Hedley and Thomas Forster; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (registered charity no.: 1110884, reg. company no.: 5057367)
Outward - Cloudy, sea state 3-5, wind SSW 5-6
Return - Cloudy, sea state 3-5, wind SSW 5-6
Summary of sightings:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 14
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Seal sp. 8
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 5
Gannet Morus bassanus 98
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 12
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 12
Common Gull Larus canus 8
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 13
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 9
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 60
Guillemot Uria aalge 235
Razorbill Alca torda 16
Diver sp. 1
Skua sp. 1
We boarded the Dunkerque Seaways on time, having passed swiftly through the official formalities. After checking in we were taken to the bridge, where we made preparation for the survey, prior to taking a quick lunch. We returned to the bridge on departure, the visibility was good and it remained so throughout the day. The sea state was moderate at first.
Razorbill (Library photo: Peter Howlett)
We started the survey immediately on passing beyond the Dover harbour wall. One Cormorant was spotted in the sea, plus numerous Guillemot and Razorbill. After 5 more minutes we saw several pelagic species: Kittiwake, Gannet, and a Fulmar. Tom also spotted a Red-throated Diver. Kittiwake continued to appear at a steady rate, whereas Guillemot groups of around 10 birds were spotted numerous times. The Guillemot was the most numerous species of the day comprising 50% of the birds surveyed. Razorbill were also seen but at a fraction of the number of Guillemot. Only sporadic Gannet were seen in the first hour.
We spotted our first mammal, a Grey Seal, after half an hour at sea. Ten minutes later we saw three Harbour Porpoise fast swimming and surfacing several times. After a further 30 minutes, closer to the more sheltered French coast, we had several more sightings of multiple Harbour Porpoise. We also had sightings of Great Skua, plus the first Great Black-backed Gull. Ten minutes out from Dunkirk, off to port, approximately 50 Gannet were diving for food, along with 70 Guillemot. We were told by the crew that these birds showed up on the radar as we passed by. Herring and Common Gull greeted us as we approached Dunkirk Harbour and Captain Smith pointed out 8 seals to starboard, lying on a distant beach in the outer harbour.
Fulmar (Library image: Rob Petley-Jones)
The return journey began with a similar pattern of observations; mainly Kittiwake and Guillemot, punctuated with the occasional Gannet. After 15 minutes a lone Grey Seal was seen and then around 10 minutes later we spotted 3 Harbour Porpoise that were circling and presumably feeding. Only occasional bird sightings were made for the next 30 minutes, until we spotted 3 Great Skua, 2 Great Black-backed Gull and a Fulmar all swimming close together. We were also able to discern a grey coloured object just below the surface, presumably a dead seal or small cetacean, upon which the birds were trying to feast, hence explaining their close proximity to one another. We ended the survey shortly afterwards as the daylight disappeared, having had an enjoyable and profitable day with a total of 14 Harbour Porpoise popping up.
We would like to express very warm thanks to Captain Russell Smith and crew for looking after us during the survey.