MARINElife Report: DFDS ‘Dover Seaways’ Dover-Dunkirk 20 October 2018

Helen Swift and Tom Forster; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Outbound: Sea state 1, good visibility (16-20 km)
Return: Sea state 1-3, good visibility (16-20 km), port-ahead glare during much of crossing

Marine Mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 4

Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 13
Common Gull Larus canus 14
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 19
Gannet Morus bassanus 116
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 25
Guillemot Uria aalge 15
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 37
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Razorbill Alca torda 11
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellatus 1
Unidentified Gull sp. 82
Unidentified Larus Gull sp. 31
Unidentified Auk sp. 36

Terrestrial birds
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Unidentified Passerine sp. 2
Unidentified Finch sp. 2

This survey took place on another unseasonably sunny day (I am certainly going to jinx things, but Tom and I have always had lovely weather on this crossing!)  Since it was the start of the half-term school holidays, this particular crossing was very popular.  Nevertheless, we were able to board Dover Seaways swiftly due to the efficiency of the attending staff.

We had a brief but enjoyable lunch kindly provided by DFDS and then headed up to the bridge to begin the survey.  Conditions were almost perfect, with a sea state of 1, no precipitation or swell, and just a little glare from the starboard side.

From the very start of the survey, there were plenty of birds to keep us on our toes.  In fact, our 'star' bird for the survey was seen just two minutes after going on effort - a Dark-Bellied Brent Goose, which gave us lovely views as it flew past the bow.  It was strange to see just the one bird, and we wondered whether it had somehow become accidentally separated from its flock while migrating.  After this, Gannet and gulls of various species were the predominant birds.  Many of them were resting on the water, suggesting they had fed recently, and a few birds in flight appeared to be actively looking for food.  Auks were also present, having returned to the Channel after spending the summer at their breeding colonies.

Gannet Carol Farmer-Wright 08

Gannet (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Marine mammals were also seen on this survey.  We had four separate sightings of Harbour Porpoise on the outbound journey (three within just a 10-minute period), on the English half of the Channel.  As usual, these cetaceans were very discreet, slowly surfacing just once or twice then disappearing. The porpoises were in the same area as the resting and 'prospecting' gulls and Gannet, again indicating that there was food (i.e. fish) in the area.  We also had two separate Grey Seal sightings during the outbound journey.

As we approached the French coast, we had close views of an active 'feeding frenzy' of Gannet, diving into the water.  We kept our eyes peeled for signs of further cetaceans underneath but sadly didn't spot any.

We had a short break in port before heading back to the bridge for the return leg of the survey.  Unfortunately, at this point, the glare (now from the port side) had become worse due to the lower position of the sun in the sky, which caused difficulties in identifying some birds - especially gulls - to a species or age level.  However, sightings were generally consistent with the outbound journey.  Sea state was still very favourable but had increased to 3 by the end of the survey.  No marine mammals were seen on the return journey.

Various types of flotsam were seen throughout the survey.  As well as the usual discarded fishing buoys and plastic bags and bottles, we spotted an oddly-shaped object which turned out to be a cluster of white balloons on closer inspection. Unfortunately, these are by no means the first balloons to be recorded on a MARINElife survey and the damage these can cause to marine wildlife is well documented.

As we arrived back in Dover, the setting sun illuminated the famous White Cliffs with a wonderful warm glow, providing a nice end to an enjoyable survey.

Cliffs Dover Helen Swift

Dover Cliffs (Helen Swift)

We would like to thank Captain Booth, the officers and other staff from DFDS and Dover Seaways who were all so welcoming and interested in our work.

Helen Swift and Tom Forster; Research Surveyors for MARINElife