Sightings Archives: May 2019

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Hibernia & Scotia' 30th - 31st May 2019

Posted 08 June 2019

Jenny Ball, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Outward: wind W f5-6, sea state 4-5. Return: wind S f5, sea state 4-5, some rain and associated poor visibility.

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 6
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/Sterna paradisaea 1
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 6
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 4
Gannet Morus bassanus 52
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 6
Guillemot Uria aalge 180
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 11
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 42
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 17
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 196
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Razorbill Alca torda 7
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 1
Tern sp. 7

Helium Balloon Jenny BallI thought my luck was in, the first song played on the Scotia's bridge radio when the Captain turned it on was "Wind Beneath my Wings", followed a few tracks later by "It's a Beautiful Day" - what an inspiring start to the survey! The day was going to have a hard job living up to that billing though and so it turned out. The weather was breezy and overcast, with a lively sea making the surveyor's life just a little tricky. However, sightings of seabirds came regularly throughout the day, the highlight being a little group comprising three of our familiar auks: two Puffin, a Razorbill and a Guillemot, resting together on the water as we passed through the Walney windfarms. The only view of a marine mammal was of a Grey Seal when we were already in the Victoria Channel, approaching Belfast port.

Not content with supplying feel-good songs, the Scotia's bridge was looking quite festive: a big helium balloon with lots of ribbons was hanging in the corner. I heard that the Chief Officer had recovered it on the Belfast-Heysham trip the previous night (I had visions of him reaching out of the bridge window and grabbing it, but I suspect it was probably snagged on something lower down on the ship). I had an interesting conversation with the Deck Officer about the hazards of letting balloons go and the damage that they can cause to the seas and marine animals.

Following the customary and very welcome stay at the Jury's Inn in Belfast, I was on the 'Stena Hibernia' for the return survey. The visibility was poor at times and, apart from the Isle of Man giving a bit of relief from the wind, the sea conditions weren't ideal for spotting cetaceans. Bird life was mainly made up of Gannet, Guillemot and Manx Shearwater, with a few Black Guillemot, Sandwich Tern and Kittiwake. Four immature Gannet of different ages were seen; whether they were birds hatched on Ailsa Craig and returning, or from another colony seeing the sights, I don't know.

Gannet Graham Ekins 05a
Stena Line are generous hosts for our surveys, and their staff are often interested in our work. The steward on the Hibernia was keen to find out if she'd really seen a shark and appreciated having a look at our ID charts. She's very conscious of current environmental issues, saying sadly that her daughter's school friends back home in Lithuania are not learning to take care of their surroundings. Let's hope that the message eventually gets through, sooner rather than later.

Grateful thanks as ever to the Stena Line Captains Bakker and Kasprzak for their welcome on board their ships and also to the Jury's Inn for the comfortable room in Belfast.

Jenny Ball, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Helium balloon picked up at sea (Jenny Ball)
2nd summer Gannet (Library photo: Graham Ekins)