MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Performer and Hibernia' 7th - 8th April 2017

Robin Langdon; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Outbound: Overcast; Sea State 1-3; Wind NW Force 3-6; Homeward: Sunny; Sea State 0-2; Wind N Force 1-2

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 10
Atlantic Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 1
Unidentified seal sp. 8
Jellyfish sp. 3

Seabirds
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 122
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 67
Gannet Morus bassanus 46
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 21
Shag Phalacrocoracidae 3
Eider Somateria mollissima 47
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3
Common Gull Larus canus 5
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 100
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 76
Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis 1
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 84
Razorbill Alca torda 4
Unidentified Diver sp 3
Unidentified Larus sp 6
Unidentified Auk sp 16
Unidentified gull sp 80

GN Diver Peter Howlett 01The weather for this survey was mainly good. The sea state never got above 2 and for the last two hours on the return journey there was no swell. and a sea state of zero. There was no wind either so conditions were almost perfect except for a mist that descended and restricted the visibility to below 500 meters. Maybe the restricted visibility was good for this survey, as there was only the single surveyor, and as the ship passed through the becalmed wind farm, with a mist but no cloud cover, this gave the seascape a strange and eerie light.

I have decided I must be going 'Looney' as I have just done a volunteering holiday studying loons (Great Norther Diver to us) in South Carolina! On my first survey after returning the first birds I saw were several Great Northern Diver and on this survey the largest count for a single species was 122 for, you guessed it, Great Northern Diver! I must be getting tuned into them.

There was a reasonable number of sightings of the Manx Shearwater, with a number of these living up to their name, being recorded as we passed the Isle of Man. There were also large numbers of Herring Gull around the ports as well as a large number of Eider as we drew close to Belfast.

Herring Gull Rob Petley-Jones 01I have never had so many individual sightings of seals with ten in total, and these were dotted throughout the route both on the outward and return journeys. There were also several Harbour Porpoise seen, and at one point I walked to the starboard side of the boat and saw one out of the starboard window, while at the same time the captain announced he had seen one Harbour Porpoise down the port side! Presumable the ship had split two travelling together.

I spotted a mother and juvenile Harbour Porpoise was we went through the wind farm. This was quite a fortunate spot, as I was just checking a bird on the port side with my binoculars when the two Harbour Porpoise appeared just behind the bird. They surfaced several times but also lay on the surface for a few seconds, a behaviour I had not seen before. Oh, by the way, the bird was another Great Northern Diver!

Two of the Harbour Porpoise were spotted after my seeing a glint of a strange colour in the sea, which attracted my attention, and I was rewarded with two sightings. However, the strangely coloured objects did not always turn into cetaceans and mostly turned out to be seaweed.

I would like to thank the captain and crews of both the Stena Pennant and Hibernia and Jurys Inn in Belfast for making me most welcome and keeping me well fed and watered.

So, what did we learn from this survey?

1. When you are a surveyor down, there is no problem in press ganging the captain into adding an extra pair of eyes.
2. Take a close look at all glinting strangely coloured objects in the sea...though be aware of seaweed.


Robin Langdon; Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)


Great Northern Diver Photo: Peter Howlett
Herring Gull Photo: Rob Petley-Jones