MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Hibernia and Performer' 19th - 20th July 2018

Rob and Jane Petley-Jones; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Outbound: Sunny with hazy visibility; Sea state 2-0; Wind SW 2-1. Homeward: Overcast with constant rain; Sea State 3-5; Wind SW 2-4

Summary of sightings

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 33
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 4
Atlantic Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 8
Harbour Seal Phocoena phocoena 3

Eider Somateria mollissima 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1227
Gannet Morus bassanus 467
Cormorant Phalacrocroax carbo 53
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 8
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 52
Common Gull Larus canus 11
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 38
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 49
Great Black-backed Guill Larus marinus 5
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 122
Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis 3
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 3
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 69
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 34
Guillemot Uria aalge 657
Razorbill Alca torda 200
Tern sp.  1
Auk sp. 75

Other Marine wildlife
Barrel Jellyfish Rhizostoma pulmo
Lion's-mane Jellyfish Cyanea capillata
Moon Jellyfish Aurelia aurita

Terrestrial Birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 16
Wader sp. 3

Med Gull Rob Petley-Jones 04These two days of such contrasting weather show just how fickle recording marine mammals can be in the Irish Sea! Excellent conditions on the first day produced a good number of sightings of cetaceans and seals, while the windy rainy conditions of the return trip prevented our seeing any more than the odd sight of marine mammals.

We got to Heysham in good time, and were very efficiently booked in by the Stena office staff and welcomed onto the ship by the ferry crew for a tasty breakfast, before being shown to the bridge in good time before departure. This allowed for some very pleasant bird watching from the sun-bathed deck outside the bridge, where we were entertained by a splendid Mediterranean Gull.

Common Seal Rob Petley-JonesAs we headed out into the Irish Sea, the calm conditions were perfect for cetacean spotting, and we were soon chalking up records of Harbour Porpoise. Sightings of porpoise were regular throughout the day, with 27 being recorded, including several groups with calves. Added to this were a few sightings of Common Dolphin, Grey Seal and Harbour Seal, one of which posed very appealingly for its photograph as the ship sailed by!

Seabird numbers were impressive, with a constant flow of Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Razorbill, and Guillemot, as the ship sailed past the Point of Aire and past the Mull of Galloway, and we had wonderful views of the Galloway coast with Ailsa Craig in the distance as we sailed over a sunny mirror-calm sea towards Belfast Lough.

There were large numbers of Barrel jellyfish, Lion's-mane Jellyfish, and Moon Jellyfish in the water, and at one time the sea turned pink with the vast swarm just below the surface! Despite our hopes in the face of such an abundance of wobbly food, there were no sunfish or turtles to be seen.

Moon Jellyfish Rob Petley-Jones

As we approached Belfast, sightings of a single Puffin, and several Black Guillemot were pleasing, as were the numerous terns, although most of these had to be recorded as Commic Tern.

We docked on time in Belfast, after a fascinating discussion with Captain Fitzgerald about the features and history of the coastal landscape down Belfast Lough. A safe departure from the ship and the port, and a short bus ride into Belfast city centre, found us at Jurys Inn, where we were warmly welcomed and shown to our very comfortable room. Too tired to hit the high life of Belfast, we had an early night after a very satisfying day.

Guillemot Rob Petley-Jones 03The following morning, we woke to a wet Belfast, but after and excellent Jurys Inn breakfast, and quick taxi to the port, we were on board the Performer in good time to start the return survey just after departure, having been welcomed by Captain Pakenas.

Although the rain briefly held off, it returned as we left Belfast Lough, and was constant until our approach to Heysham some eight hours later. The wind had also picked up, and the sea became quite rough as we approached the Isle of Man, so conditions were not good for mammal spotting. Singles of Harbour Porpoise and Common Dolphin outside Belfast Lough were all we would see until our approach to Heysham, where we spotted several more Harbour Porpoise over the Lune Deep.

Manx Shearwater Rob Petley-Jones 03Bird numbers were also down on the previous day, although we did see a good number of Guillemot and Razorbill accompanied by chicks, which had clearly just left the breeding cliffs! There were still good numbers of Manx Shearwater, but many were rafting on the sea. As the ship approached these rafts, the shearwaters grumpily lifted off out of the way of the approaching vessel!

We would like to thank Captain Sean Fitzgerald and Captain Pakenas, and their crews, for making us so welcome on board the Hibernia and Performer, and thanks as well to Jurys Inn for their splendid hospitality. Being treated to such warm welcome and hospitality makes this survey particularly enjoyable, and we certainly hope to help on this route again in the future.

Rob and Jane Petley-Jones; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Mediterranean Gull Photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Harbour (aka Common) Seal Photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Moon Jellyfish Photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Guillemot and chick Photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Manx Shearwater Photo: Rob Petley-Jones