MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Performer and Hibernia' 10th - 11th February 2017

Carol Farmer-Wright and Jenny Ball, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outbound: Cloudy, dry, sea state 3-2, East North Easterly winds. Return: Cloudy dry to light rain, sea state 3-5 Easterly winds

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 12
Unidentified Seal sp. 1

Seabirds
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 2
Eider Somateria mollissima 83    
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 3    
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 6    
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3    
Gannet Morus bassanus 14    
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 11    
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 82    
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1    
Common Gull Larus canus 26    
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 70    
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 6    
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 8    
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 100    
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 3    
Guillemot Uria aalge 130    
Razorbill Alca torda 81    
Larus sp. 52    
Auk sp. 39

One little duck, two little ducks… no, not the start of our survey from Heysham to Belfast, but the calls from the bingo session downstairs at our hotel in Morecambe - perhaps we should have joined in!  Instead, we had an early night, ready to join the Stena Performer early on Friday morning.  We were welcomed by the shore staff, given a much-appreciated lift right up to the accommodation deck, and were invited to make ourselves at home on the bridge shortly after departure.

Razorbill Peter Howlett 06A fairly benign sea state, and a cloudy but generally bright day meant that we were confident of seeing any mammals which might be around, and indeed we saw two Grey Seal during the crossing and a good number of Harbour Porpoise towards the mouth of Belfast Lough.  The ship appeared to startle a couple of the porpoise, which dived off in opposite directions, and a little later a group of four swam off together out of harm's way.  

Bird sightings were slow and steady, and apart from a quiet period in the middle of the crossing, we counted a reasonable number of Herring Gull, Common Gull, Guillemot, Razorbill and Eider as we approached Belfast.

After a very comfortable overnight stay at the Jury's Inn in Belfast, we made our way to the Stena Hibernia and were again welcomed by the ever-helpful staff and crew.  The day looked as though it would be rather more challenging for spotting mammals as initially the sea state was higher, but in fact things calmed down as we sailed into the lee of the Mull of Galloway sheltered from the NE wind.  

Kittiwake Peter Howlett 12However, a couple of Grey Seal were our only definite mammalian sightings though the birds almost made up for this lack.  A flight of Shag ahead of the ship, several rafts of Razorbill and Kittiwake, plenty of Eider still in their winter plumage and several Black Guillemot, a favourite bird in these waters.

This was an enjoyable and productive survey, and our thanks go to Stena Line, Captains Grzegorz Paciorek and Pavels Lipinieks of the Stena Performer and Stena Hibernia and to their cheerful staff and crews for making us feel welcome on their ships, and to the Jury's Inn for their generous support during the stop-over in Belfast.

Carol Farmer-Wright and Jenny Ball, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Razorbill Photo: Peter Howlett
Kittiwake Photo: Peter Howlett