MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Hibernia & Scotia' 25th - 26th April 2019

Rob Petley-Jones and Robin Langdon; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outward: Wind SW F4-5, sea state 4-5; moderate visibility. Return: Wind SW F5-6, sea state 4-5; swell 2; rain; moderate to poor visibility

Summary of sightings

Marine Mammals:
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1

Mute Swan Cygnus olor 3
Eider Somateria mollissima 11
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 10
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 4
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 162
Gannet Morus bassanus 134
Cormorant Phalacrocroax carbo 9
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 5
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 6
Common Gull Larus canus 51
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 35
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 5
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 22
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 31
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 9
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 60
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 11
Guillemot Uria aalge 199
Razorbill Alca torda 28
Wader sp. 2
Larus sp. 6
Auk sp. 21

The weather conditions in both directions were not the best for spotting stuff on the sea. There was almost continuous cloud cover the whole way on both days, though at one point we did have a full gambit of weather with mist, rain, sun and glare. The return leg was made a bit more difficult as it rained most of the way and one of the window wipers refused to work, even though there were various attempts by the bridge crew to get it working! I mentioned to the officer on watch that on the way over to Belfast we had similar problems with the coffee machine and that turning the power off and back on cured it, but he seemed reluctant to do this with the ships power!

Manx Shearwater Rob Petley-Jones 03Conditions were difficult for recording cetaceans, but we had a Grey Seal spotted in both directions not far from Heysham, and it could have been the same one, counting us out and then counting us back in again. On the return leg a single Harbour Porpoise was seen while passing through the wind farm a couple of hours from port.

Manx Shearwater migration is fully underway, and there was a collection of about fifty sitting on the water which took off as the ship passed, the rest were seen in small groups throughout the survey. Other highlights include a small flock of 22 Little Gull and an I2 Gannet where all other Gannet were either I5 or adult. There were only a few Eider left in Belfast Lough so most seem to have left for their breeding grounds.

Rob and I also sorted the world's problems over a Guinness (or two! - Ed) in Jury's Inn on the Thursday evening. The following days (during lulls in sightings) we got on to the weightier subjects such as 'Was there a Big Bang?'; 'Is the universe infinite?'; 'Are we alone in the universe?' and 'Can you remember what I ordered for Lunch?' (also discussed was a common admiration for 'The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Universe' - Ed)

Artic Skua Peter Howlett 02Rob's power as the Team Leader seem to go to his head. Not taking the advice of King Canute and the ability of controlling seas and weather. Rob commanded that by 1 o'clock the sun would shine. He had as much influence as the king and no sun shone (it was shining on the Isle of Man at that time as we passed - Ed). To rub salt into the wound, just as we were leaving the ship in Heysham the sun did make a brief appearance! (Well, at least my prediction of seeing the Little Gulls was right! - Ed)

We almost managed a hat-trick of 'Arctic' species. There were some Arctic Term (probably), a lovely dark phase Arctic Skua (definitely, and a first for me), and an Arctic Roll (almost, we had the ice cream for lunch but not the sponge bit).

We would like to thank Captains Kasprzak and Pakenas and their crews on the Hibernia and the Scotia for making us welcome and also for Jury's Inn for the room for the night and the excellent breakfast.

So, what did we learn from this trip? Team leaders have the same powers as kings, at least when it comes to weather!

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

Manx Shearwater Photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Arctic Skua Photo: Peter Howlett