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

Robin Langdon and Stephen Hedley; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outward - Overcast; Sea State 1-3; Wind NW Force 4. Return - Sunny; Sea State 0-2; Wind SW Force 1

Summary of sightings

Marine Mammals:
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 24
Atlantic Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1
Seal sp. 3
Jellyfish sp. 2

Seabirds:
Gannet Morus bassanus 176
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 9
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1407
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 6
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 6
Cormorant Phalacrocroax carbo 6
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 11
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 18
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 20
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 141
Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis 43
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 4
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 11
Guillemot Uria aalge 237
Razorbill Alca torda 10
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 5
Gull sp. 1
Tern sp. 3

I am not quite sure what phrase best sums up this survey. 'A game of two halves', I have already used that one; - 'The ridiculous to the sublime'; not quite right; - 'What a difference a day makes'; I think that about sums it up!

There was a bit of difference in the surveyors' experience on this survey - this was my second survey of the week while for Stephen this was his first ever survey for MarineLife.

The weather conditions were reasonable on the outward journey but for all our efforts we failed to see any marine mammals. Captain Fitzgerald told us they normally see seals as the ship entered the port but alas even there we failed to see anything. There were rafts of feeding Manx Shearwater as well as many Gannet diving in for fish but there were no cetacean joining them, at least none we could see.

Kittiwake Rob Petley-Jones 02aTo rub salt into the wound, just after we had finished the survey and packed everything away the Captain called us over and pointed out a seal bobbing in the water just near the ship. What made this feat of spotting the seal even more remarkable was the Captain did this while performing a Starboard Swing. The Captains swing was the highpoint of the day and we think it will be the next craze to sweep the country!

For the return trip, the conditions were almost perfect with no wind and a sea state of only 1. The feeling was that if the cetacean were there they would be seen, and we started off steadily with a few seals which were nice to see after our lack of any marine mammal on the previous day.

An hour into the trip the first Harbour Porpoise was spotted after which Stephen decided to take a short break. At this point the flood gates opened, and during his 15-minute break I spotted four separate groups of Harbour Porpoise. One was a group of four feeding amongst diving Gannet and Manx Shearwater. Because of the effect of Stephen's break, I spent the rest of the day trying to persuade him to take more! Even after Stephen's return the sightings kept coming, and at one point Stephen was trying to write down three different sightings at the same time.

Minke Peter Howlett 08We then spotted a strange circular wave about 500 meters in front of the ship. We trained our binoculars on the wave……. MINKE! I decide that life was unfair - this was about my twentieth survey with MarineLife and the first time I had seen a Minke Whale while Stephen was on his first trip and he was rewarded with a Minke straight away! Maybe he is lucky to have around after all.

On the bird front the most unusual was a Mediterranean Gull which flew close to the ship as we approached Heysham.

For Stephens's first survey he got both extremes of a MarineLife survey with no marine mammal sightings on the way out and a plethora of them on the return, but I did explain to him that most of the time he will get somewhere in between these two extremes.

We would like to thank Captain Fitzgerald and his crew on the Hibernia and Captain Haptar and his crew on the Performer for looking after us so well. Also thanks to Jury's Inn for an excellent night in Belfast. Regarding for the highlight of this trip, it was a close-run thing between Captain Fitzgerald's Starboard Swing and the Minke Whale. Sorry Captain Fitzgerald, the Minke just pipped your swing!

Robin Langdon and Stephen Hedley; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Kittiwake Photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Minke Whale Photo: Peter Howlett