Robert Graves & Mel J Green, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Outbound: Sea state beginning 4 reducing to 0 as we docked at Dunkirk. Cloud cover reduced and visibility increased towards the French coast. Generally south-westerly winds.
Return: Sea state beginning 1 and increasing to 5 towards Dover. Cloud cover increased, and visibility decreased on the return trip
Summary of sightings:
Seal (sp) 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 175
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 3
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 3
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 22
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 12
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 20
Guillemot Uria aalge 17
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 25
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 61
Razorbill Alca torda 1
Unidentified auk sp. 2
Once on board our Dover Seaways ferry, we were invited up to meet the Captain where we had a quick talk about the weather to expect, what we hoped to see on the crossing and confirmed our working arrangements on the bridge so that we could survey but not disturb the crew. We left the dock at Dover punctually (high noon) and having left the breakwaters behind us, one of the officers escorted us up to the bridge so we could position ourselves on the starboard side and begin our survey.
Gannet (Mel Green)
Within 5 minutes of us starting the survey we saw our first Gannet gently glide past the bow of the ship at bridge height. Unbeknownst to us at that point, this was to be the first of 175 sightings on this trip. These seabirds are so incredibly majestic in flight and it is always a real privilege to see their graceful manoeuvres at such close quarters.
Our only marine mammal came into view very briefly on the outbound journey. Close to the ship on the portside bow, a seal was spotted for just a few seconds. We survey on the starboard side but moving quickly across the bridge we couldn't get a species as it had dived almost as soon as it had popped up.
Great Skua (Library photo: Peter Howlett)
We had a lot of seabird diversity and in good numbers to keep us on our toes. Great Skua totalled just 3 but are always a sight to behold. Bulky and dark against the grey sea, they are still quite unmistakable even at distance. Good numbers of Kittiwake were sighted and Black-backed Gull were also abundant.
Sunset was at 16.14 and so we had lost light visibility by the time we approached Dover harbour. Many thanks to the bridge crew and Captain of the Dover Seaways for making us feel so welcome.