MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Precision & Hiberniar' 9th - 10th October 2015

John Perry; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather:
Outward - Winds 4-5 SE; Sea State 2-3, Visibility moderate
Return - Winds 3-4 SE; Sea State 1, Visibility good

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals and notable marine species
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3
Otter Lutra lutra 1

Seabirds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 482
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 115
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 6
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 42
Common Gull Larus canus 9
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 66
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 75
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 56
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 41
Guillemot Uria aalge 629
Razorbill Alca torda 9

Terrestrial birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 45
Magpie Pica pica 1

On arrival at Heysham Harbour I quickly had my passport checked and was directed to the Stena Hibernia.  Here the helpful Stena Line staff showed me to my cabin and provided a hearty breakfast.  I was then welcomed to the bridge by Captain Arkadiysk Sobieski and was provided with a very comfortable high chair from where to conduct the survey.

GBB Gull Peter Howlett 01We left Heysham on time accompanied by the usual collection of harbour seabirds and waders.  As we passed the power station a solitary Magpie flew over the ship but unlike the common nursery rhyme, this was not a negative sign as the voyage was in fact both pleasant and productive.

Once out into open waters good numbers of Gannet, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Guillemot and Kittiwake were encountered as well as smaller numbers of Razorbill and Common Gull.  Surprisingly not a single Fulmar was recorded.

The visibility throughout the trip was no more than moderate as there was a continuous sea haze over the horizon. However the sea was calm which made for excellent spotting and identification.  As we entered Belfast Lough and approached Belfast port an Otter was seen fishing just off Carrickfergus.

After a very good night's sleep at Jury's Inn (provided free by the hotel), I was back at the port by 07:30 to board the return ship Stena Precision.  Captain Grzegorz Paciorek enthusiastically welcomed me to the Bridge and told me about the excellent possibilities of cetacean sightings on this route.  He was not wrong!

Within a few minutes of setting sail, two Harbour Porpoise and three Grey Seal were sighted and just past the Isle of Man a logging Risso's Dolphin was seen directly in front of the ship.  It was noticeable that the interest in looking for cetaceans was not confined to the Captain as his other Officers were also as equally keen to spot them.

Rissos Dolphin Peter Howlett 04In addition to the single Risso's, we passed close by a couple of rafts of seabirds, mostly Gannet, Guillemot and mixed gulls, which were clearly digesting a recent meal, to the extent that they could hardly fly when the ship approached and merely shuffled out of the way.  This rather suggested that there was a high probability of other recent cetacean activity in the area.
As we approached the English Coast two Manx Shearwater were seen as well as a small skein of Common Scoter.

My thanks go to the two Captains and their friendly crew and the Jury's Inn Belfast staff for what was a very interesting and rewarding survey.

John Perry; Research Surveyor for MARINElife