MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Performer and Hibernia' 16th - 17th December 2016

Robin Langdon and Mike Duckett; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Westbound: Overcast;  Sea State 1-3;  Wind E force 3-4. Eastbound: Overcast;  Sea State 3-4;  Wind S Force 3-4

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 2
Atlantic Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 20
Unidentified cetacean sp. 1
Unidentified seal sp. 17

Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 6
Gannet Morus bassanus 31
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Shag Phalacrocoracidae 29
Eider Somateria mollissima 774
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 75
Common Gull Larus canus 18
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 52
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 23
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 343
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 248
Razorbill Alca torda 34
Unidentified diver sp. 1
Unidentified auk sp. 289
Unidentified Larus sp. 1
Unidentified gull sp. 106

Terrestrial Birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 4

Great Skua Peter Howlett 11The usual array of birds was seen, with plenty of Guillemot, Kittiwake and Herring Gull.  However, the largest number were of Eider, seen in large rafts as we left Belfast port - presumably they were there for the pre-Christmas revels that the rest of Belfast seemed to be engaging in!   A single Great Skua was seen, confirming my personal theory that there is only a single Great Skua in the Irish Sea, as only one has been seen on each of the trips I have done this year!

On the return journey, there was one area where there were several groups of birds feeding, mainly made up of auks and gulls with a few Gannet, and there were about half a dozen groups spaced a couple of kilometres apart.

Several Harbour Porpoise were spotted on the survey, as well as a couple of Common Dolphin and an unidentified small cetacean that was seen feeding with one of the groups of birds.  A group of Grey Seal were seen basking on an island not far out of Belfast.   

Common Dolphin Rick Morris 05One of our sightings showed how tricky accurate recording can be.  Mike first spotted a couple of Harbour Porpoise but then lost them, but then I spotted what I thought was the same two animals which we watched go down the side of the ship.  However, when we discussed how far away our sightings had been - Mike's were about 200 meters, while mine were at least 500 metres away - it was apparent that these must have been two separate groups Harbour Porpoise.

We would like to thank the crews of both the Performer and Hibernia for making us welcome and looking after us while we were on board.

Robin Langdon and Mike Duckett; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Great Skua Photo: Peter Howlett
Common Dolphin Photo: Rick Morris