Sightings Archives: May 2019

MARINElife Survey Report 'Dunkerque Seaways' Dover-Dunkirk 25 May 2019

Posted 31 May 2019

Karen Francis & Julie Ackroyd, Research Surveyors for MARINElife, (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Weather: Outbound: fair and dry with moderate visibility and decreasing cloud, wind S-SE 3 dec 1, sea state 1-2
Inbound: dry and cloudy with moderate visibility, wind W-SW 3-4 sea state 2-3

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Diver sp. Gaviidae 2
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet  Morus bassanus 15
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 5
Gull sp.  Laridae 20
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 8
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 43
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 9
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis 22
Swallow  Hirundo rustica 1

Julie and I met in Dover on a slightly cloudy and drizzly morning, but by the time we had boarded the Dunkerque Seaways the skies had cleared nicely, and we were excited to begin our survey on the bridge. As we prepared our survey forms, we had a casual sighting of many varied gulls feeding by the harbour wall. This was in contrast to the open sea, where we had no bird sightings at all for a few miles, until we started to record a few Kittiwake, Gannet and Herring Gull. Conditions were excellent for surveying, with good light and a lovely sea state - we were hopeful of seeing Harbour Porpoise close to shore, but none were observed, just a single Fulmar, rafting on the gentle waves.

As the ship progressed towards Dunkirk, we recorded Lesser- and Great Black-backed Gull, many more Kittiwake and Sandwich Tern, the latter swooping skilfully and diving for fish. Two rafting Diver were spotted close to Dunkirk, and a single Swallow hailed our approach. Whilst on rest during turnaround we observed large numbers of Black-headed Gull and Sandwich Tern in Dunkirk Harbour.

Grey Seal Karen Francis 01
Grey Seal with fish (Karen Francis)

The return crossing to Dover was a little bit quieter in terms of seabird sightings, with all of the same species sighted as the outward journey. It was close to the French coast that we had a lovely encounter with a Grey Seal, who was endeavouring to protect his fish catch from a greedy juvenile gull. Although this proved to be our only marine mammal sighting of the day, it was an enjoyable one.

A rather more alarming observation during this short crossing was the significant number (10 in total) of plastic helium balloons recorded at sea. As a Blue Planet Champion, MARINElife's revised 'Flotsam' forms allow the fast recording of ocean plastics such as these, which will greatly aid scientific data and ultimately, help to prevent these items polluting our seas and endangering wildlife.

Julie Ackroyd surveying Karen Francis
Julie Ackroyd surveying (Karen Francis)

Between mid-Channel and the English coast more Gannet were encountered, and sightings of Lesser Black-backed Gull became frequent, with one individual only logged once, despite repeatedly circling the ship!  We returned into Dover Port having enjoyed a very rewarding day at sea.

We are very grateful to DFDS, Captain Arebizant and the Crew of the Dunkerque Seaways for welcoming us on board and for allowing this survey to take place.