MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Hibernia and Performer' 12th - 13th October 2017

Robin Langdon; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outbound: Overcast. Sea State 3-6 Wind SW Force 6; Homeward: Sunny. Sea State 3-7 Wind SW Force 7

Summary of sightings

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 4
Atlantic Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Gannet Morus bassanus 112
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 2
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 51
Cormorant Phalacrocroax carbo 11
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Eider Somateria mollissima 40
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black Headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 11

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 5
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 18
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 517
Guillemot Uria aalge 345
Razorbill Alca torda 5
Gull sp. 2

This was another survey where all the cetaceans were seen on the homeward leg, surprising as the spotting conditions were worse on this leg than on the outbound stage.

The conditions in both directions were challenging, with a 1 metre swell and sea state of 6 on the outward bound, and a 2 to 3 metre swell and sea state of 7 on the return, so I was not expecting to see too much, and on the way out this proved to be the case.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 01On the return, just as we left the shelter of Belfast harbour I spotted a Harbour Porpoise in front of the ship. The sea state was only up to about 3 at this point, and I did think that this would be the last cetacean I saw during the voyage. About 45 minutes later, with the swell now over a metre and a sea state of 5, I spotted another pair. Luckily, I saw these surface three times as it was not until the final time that I got a positive identification.

As we got close to Heysham with a calmer sea I saw yet another Harbour Porpoise as well as a Grey Seal.

On the bird front there was the usual selection of birds with reasonable numbers of Gannet, Guillemot, and Kittiwake. There were quite large numbers of birds sitting on the surface, so I suspect there were more there but due to the swell these were difficult to spot.

Great Skua Peter Howlett 03I did also see the only Great Skua in the Irish Sea - I have a personal theory of there is only one Great Skua in the Irish Sea (see my previous blogs)!

As normal, I was well looked after on both ships by the Captain and his crew, and I even got black pudding with my breakfast on the Hibernia. My thanks as well to Jurys Inn for supplying the accommodation in Belfast.

(Editor's comment: Interesting point of view on Great Skua, but I saw three on the way to Dublin last week…! However, I did not get black pudding for breakfast!)

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

Harbour Porpoise Photo: Peter Howlett
Great Skua Photo: Peter Howlett