MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Belfast 'Stena Hibernia & Scotia' 5th - 6th December 2019

Jenny Ball, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Outward: Wind SSW F6 rising to sustained F9, sea state rough F7/8; Return: Wind W F5-6, sea state moderate F4

Summary of sightings

Marine Mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2

Eider Somateria mollisima 547
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 19
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 46
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 9
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 41
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 7
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 43
Guillemot Uria aalge 103
Razorbill Alca torda 9

Terrestrial birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 4

Fulmar Peter Howlett 05The forecast for the day was for strong winds in the Irish Sea, and when everyone from the deckhand to the captain mentioned it as I boarded the Stena Line Hibernia I was hoping I'd find my sealegs very quickly indeed! As it turned out, the ship's motion was reasonably comfortable despite the high winds and rough sea state, so I was able to survey until the light faded early on this stormy day.

Initially the sea state was a moderate 4 and as we passed through Lune Deep, I was able to see a Harbour Porpoise diving away on the port side of the ship. About an hour later, near the South Morecambe Gas Field, I saw another Harbour Porpoise, a lucky spot amongst the mounting seas. Bird life during the survey was mostly restricted to hardy gulls and guillemots, with a few Razorbill and Kittiwake recorded, and a lone Fulmar towards the end of the day.

Although it was still blustery, I was glad to have a walk around Belfast city centre in the evening, the City Hall looking sparkly and festive and with the Christmas market in the grounds attracting lots of customers. The Jury's Inn, though, was warm and comfortable, and much appreciated.

Kittiwake Peter Howlett 07The return trip to Heysham was a great improvement on the previous day with bright sunshine, lighter winds and calmer seas, but because of the ship's sailing time I could only survey for around four hours.

A Grey Seal was gently bobbing around in the channel as we sailed into Belfast Lough, and I saw a raft of around 500 Eider resting on the waves. In the North Channel we crossed a steady stream of Fulmar flying from the Mull of Galloway towards the Irish coast, but otherwise the main species recorded were Guillemot and Kittiwake, with some gulls and Cormorant seen returning to the Isle of Man at dusk.

Many thanks to Captains Kasprzak and Pakenas for their hospitality on board the Stena Line Hibernia and Scotia, and for their interest in our work, and to the Jurys Inn for a welcome overnight stay in Belfast.

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

Fulmar Photo: Peter Howlett
Kittiwake Photo: Peter Howlett