Recent Sightings

MARINElife blog: Seatruck ‘Clipper Point’ Heysham-Dublin 10 October 2017

Posted 15 October 2017

Rob Petley-Jones, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Outward Conditions: Wind: WSW force 4-1; Sea State: 4-1; Swell: 1; Visibility: clear
Return Conditions: Wind: SW force 1-4; Sea State: 1-4; Swell: 1; Visibility: clear

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 36
Gannet Morus bassanus 127
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 99
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 28
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 3
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 30
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 93
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 18
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Common Gull Larus canus 62
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 58
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 1
Puffin Fratercula arctica 3
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 150
Razorbill Alca torda 14

Terrestrial birds at sea:
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 3

I arrived at Heysham port at 23.30, and dodged some very heavy rain showers as I walked to the Clipper Point after getting booked in at the Seatruck office.  I was given a friendly welcome by the steward (despite my walking over his newly mopped floor!) and was in my cabin and ready for sleep by midnight.

The rain had passed by dawn and I was on the bridge by 07.30 to find the sea at state 4 with quite a lot of white-caps.  Bird sightings were initially few and far between but soon a steady flow of Fulmar gave me something to record.  Many of these birds were dozing on the sea surface, heads tucked under wings, only to be rudely awakened as the ship bore down on them!

Fulmar Rob Petley-Jones 01More Fulmar and increasing numbers of Guillemot and Razorbill kept me alert as the Clipper Point approached Ireland over a steadily calming sea, with highlights being two large groups of Gannet frantically feeding over a large area of water.  However, despite careful scanning of this spectacle I was unable to spot any cetaceans that might have been feeding as well.

As we approached Dublin, I chatted with Captain Tim Broughton and we exchanged stories of storms we had experienced.  Needless to say, Tim's account of a very exciting storm in the Irish Sea only last week capped my tale of crossing Biscay for MARINElife in a severe gale a few weeks before.  Clearly the Irish Sea can be a tougher sea even than Biscay!

As we entered the sheltered area behind the breakwaters, I spotted a feeding flock of Mediterranean Gull as well as a flock entirely made up of second year Kittiwake. A good number of Black-headed Gull and a few Common Gull as well as a solitary Black Guillemot were hanging around the power station outfall, while a small flock of Brent Goose passed over the bows of the ship, these interestingly the dark-bellied form and not the light-bellied form which is more usual on the Irish coast.

Kittiwake Rob Petley-Jones 02aAs the ship unloaded and reloaded its containers I had some lunch, avoiding another freshly-mopped floor, and rested to prepare for the four hours of survey in the afternoon.


We departed a little later than planned due to the Epsilon and the Jonathan Swift both sneaking out in front of the Point!  However, this was fortuitous as I would not then have recorded another sizeable flock of Mediterranean Gull or the five Harbour Porpoise as we followed the other two ships out into the Irish Sea!


Despite three sightings of Great Skua, the rest of the afternoon's recording became increasingly quiet as the sea state built, but a sixth Harbour Porpoise just as I was considering packing up for the day was ample reward and good end to the survey.



Fulmar (Rob Petley-Jones)
Kittiwake (Rob Petley-Jones)

MARINElife blog: Seatruck ‘Clipper Ranger’ Heysham-Dublin 8 August 2017

Posted 13 August 2017

Michael Duckett Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Weather: Mainly cloudy, wind N 3-4, sea state 3-4, visibility good.

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:
Common dolphin Delphinus delphis 2
Dolphin sp. 5

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 38
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 521
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 1
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 252
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 18
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 41
Common Gull Larus canus 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 28
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 14
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 581
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 69
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 22
'Comic' Tern Sterna paradisaea/hirundo 76
Guillemot Uria aalge 684
Razorbill Alca torda 17
Puffin Fratercula arctica 4
Shearwater sp.  4
Gull sp. 632
Larus sp.  76
Tern sp. 1154
Auk sp. 1478

Terrestrial Birds:
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1

On the bridge for 06.45, I had decent conditions for this survey, with no glare to speak of and only a light swell throughout.

Despite surveying solo for the first time, I felt supported by the bridge crew and the first cetacean sighting came courtesy of the officer on watch. A little after 9am he alerted me to two Common Dolphin coming in from the port side. I could see by the size difference that one was an adult and the other juvenile, before they ducked under the bow and out of sight.

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 55My second cetacean sighting, on the return crossing two hours out of Dublin, was also thanks to the bridge crew. This time the dolphins were moving slowly, low in the water, not racing like Common Dolphin usually seem to, and I have chosen to record them as 'unidentified'. First, three approached us from the port side, and shortly afterward I got a second glimpse of two others leaving the ship to starboard. Was I imagining them as larger than a Common Dolphin or was it just the angle of view? Sometimes cetaceans do not make it easy for you and on this occasion I will have to be content with the mystery of their passing. Another crew member was still excited by his sighting the previous day of "bigger than normal" dolphins leaping higher and displaying more than he is used to seeing, so I am left wondering if Bottlenose or other visitors are busy in the area.

There were abundant - and often noisy - bird sightings throughout my outward crossing. There were regular Guillemot, Kittiwake, Gannet, Manx Shearwater and terns of various species, with occasional Fulmar, Razorbill, Puffin and, my personal highlight, one Storm Petrel dancing off the water at 07.50. Closer to the Irish coast, Shag, Cormorant, Black-headed, Herring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull also appeared, and both Sandwich and 'Comic' Tern were present. My final sighting before port was of a bright white Little egret flying to shore ahead of us.

Balearic Shearwater Tom Brereton 06aThe return crossing began busy and got busier. Loose mixed feeding groups of terns, Kittiwake, Gannet, shearwaters, auks and Great Black-backed Gull congregated in group after group, some sitting, some diving, some wheeling. Despite my efforts I saw no cetaceans associated with these spectacular groups, but in one hour alone I counted 1600 individual birds. There was at least one Balearic Shearwater and I suspected a Cory's but without a closer view had to leave it as just that, a suspicion! The seas remained lively until evening, when the population reduced to just the occasional passing Gannet, Manx Shearwater or gull. I descended from the bridge satisfied with the experience and with a whole sheaf of sightings to report.

Common Dolphin (Peter Howlett)
Balearic Shearwater (Tom Bereton)

MARINElife blog: Heysham-Dublin 4 July 2017

Posted 04 July 2017

This survey was cancelled for operational reasons.

MARINElife blog: Seatruck ‘Clipper Point’ Heysham-Dublin 9 May 2017

Posted 19 May 2017

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

Wind: E-NE force 2-0; Sea State: 2-0; Visibility: clear

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 10
Common dolphin Delphinus delphis 5
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 3
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3
Seal sp. 1

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 214
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 255
Gannet Morus bassanus 266
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 8
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 29
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 69
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 12
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 4
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 849
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 234
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 4
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 13
Guillemot Uria aalge 1026
Razorbill Alca torda 60
Tern sp. 15
Auk sp. 143
Gull sp. 240

Terrestrial Birds:
Dunlin Calidris alpina 3
Curlew Numenius arquata 6
Wader sp.  7
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 2
Swift Apus apus 1
Swallow Hirundo rustica 9

Other Marine Wildlife:
Barrel Jellyfish Rhizostoma octopus 18

We were on board and in our cabins very swiftly, and prepared for an early start at 05.30 with the dawn.  The master for this trip was Captain Peeran Dhatigara who welcomed us very warmly to the bridge and enthusiastically shared information about cetacean sightings he had experienced in his career.

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 13We were up on the bridge by 06.00 and were immediately recording seabirds with several Fulmar, Gannet and Manx Shearwater recorded. There was much bird activity throughout the crossing to Dublin, but we were treated to large numbers of Guillemot and a good number of Razorbill as we approached the Irish coast.  These were passing in large flights low over the water and we wondered why so many birds were still away from their breeding sites.

Harbour Porpoise sightings were low despite the increasingly calm sea conditions but a small pod of Common Dolphin was a pleasure to see, especially as there were two small calves closely following their mothers.

Black Guillemot Rob Petley-Jones 01Some terrestrial migrants were also seen, including numbers of Swallow, a single Swift and a small flock of Dunlin.  As we approach the port, numbers of Common Tern were recorded as they flew out to their feeding grounds from the nesting islands at the entrance to the port, and a small number of Black Guillemot buzzed about from pier to lighthouse and back.  Very large numbers of Kittiwake were massed at the power station outfall and again we wondered at so many birds being yet to move to their breeding sites.

A restful few hours in port allowed for us to have a hearty lunch and catch up on some sleep.  Before leaving we enjoyed some close views of Black Guillemot as they played around the bow of the ship, while a Tree Pipit serenaded us from its song perch close to the bustle of the busy container waggons.

Barrel Jellyfish Rob Petley-Jones 01The return trip was very much the same as the outward trip in reverse, with large numbers of auks just out from Dublin, and regular encounters with Kittiwake and Gannet throughout the voyage.  There were far more Fulmar on this leg of the voyage, with most sitting out the increasingly calm conditions and near absent wind on the flat calm sea surface.  A flock of Curlew was seen flying north towards the Isle of Man, but a pair of Collared Dove flying past the bridge halfway to Anglesey was surprising.

Despite perfect spotting conditions Harbour Porpoise sightings were surprising few but a small pod of Bottlenose Dolphin under a feeding group of Gannet and Manx Shearwater was very satisfying.  As we passed into the sheltered seas north of Anglesey we began to see numbers of large Barrel Jellyfish, ranging in colour from brown through orange to pale yellow with frilly blue arms trailing behind!

Common Dolphin (Peter Howlett)
Black Guillemot (Rob Petley-Jones)
Barrel Jellyfish (Rob Petley-Jones)

MARINElife blog: Seatruck ‘Clipper Point’ Heysham-Dublin 4 April 2017

Posted 05 May 2017

Nik Grounds & Jack Lucas, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Outward: Wind force 4; Sea State 4; Visibility 6
Return: Wind force 5; Sea State 2; Visibility 5-6

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 51
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1

Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 16
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8
Gannet Morus bassanus 25
Cormorant Phalacrocorax 4
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 5
Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 4
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 146
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 8
Guillemot Uria aalge 302
Razorbill Alca torda 61
Unidentified auk sp. 67
Unidentifed diver sp. 1

Everything went smoothly upon arrival shortly before midnight at Heysham Port. We headed over to the Clipper Point from the Seatruck office slightly earlier than expected as the ship was ahead of schedule and had already started loading for departure. We got our heads down for the remainder of the night, both of us looking forward to what this exciting time of year would bring in terms of birds and mammals!

We got up at first light and had a brew in the lounge, and as we looked through the lounge windows we were treated with great views of Fulmar and Manx Shearwater banking across the bow. We headed to the bridge just after 06.30 to start the survey, but as the ship had departed at 02.00 we were already well across the Irish Sea by this time.

The weather was clear with good visibility, despite a slight chop and some swell, and straight away we got into the usual characters expected offshore, clocking up multiple sightings of Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake and a few Gannet, along with some Fulmar and Shag. Manx Shearwater, back from their winter in the South Atlantic, were plentiful but sporadic as we headed across the Irish Sea.

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 12Before long our first mammal of the trip was logged as a lone Common Dolphin leapt down the starboard side of the ship. This was the first of several dolphin sightings over the next hour and we encountered several small groups that were probably part of a much larger pod, dispersed over several miles.

We also spotted numerous seals on the outward leg of both Grey Seal and Harbour Seal floating with their snouts sticking vertically out of the water, a behaviour known as 'bottling' due the resemblance of a floating wine bottle. We also got a brief glimpse of a Harbour Porpoise off the bow but only surfaced once.  On the approach to Dublin Harbour we started to pick up some more of the coastal species such as Cormorant, Herring Gull and the much-anticipated Black Guillemot.

Once in dock we continued to look out for wildlife, logging anything we found as casual sightings.  We spotted a group of Pale-breasted Brent Geese around the rocks of the harbour point, and plenty of Oystercatcher and Black-headed Gull darting around the coast.  The odd Harbour Seal was also spotted swimming around the moorings.  There were plenty of Black Guillemot, with groups of up to six zooming around above the water or sitting on their favoured perches on the pontoons and concrete structures around the harbour.  We had a fabulous lunch before heading back to our cabins for a quick snooze before the ship departed around 14.00.

Grey Seal Rick Morris 06Heading out of the harbour we spotted more Harbour Seal and more of the previously sighted birds living around the port. As we passed along the channel we could make out large groups of waders making the most of the low tide on the vast beaches around the harbour entrance but they were too distant to identify.  We continued to rack up the coastal sightings with plenty of Herring Gull and Cormorant, and a few Greater Black-backed Gull.  We caught a glimpse of an unidentified diver species but it dived before we could get a second look.

The return crossing heralded much of the same in terms of bird life, our survey forms largely comprising of Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake and Fulmar. A surprise came in the form of a lone Whooper Swan approaching the ship.  It was a fair distance offshore, heading north and probably migrating back to its breeding grounds.

We encountered a few more Harbour Porpoise on the return leg, and came across more groups of Common Dolphin. One group numbered over 30 individuals, all leaping and splashing their way under the bows of the ship, and making excellent viewing from our vantage point.  More Manx Shearwater glided past, but careful never to approach the ship too close.

Dusk soon approached and although it was a beautiful evening with the sun setting behind us, we started to lose the useable light so we called it a day.  We bid farewell to the crew before heading back to our cabins to get some shuteye before our midnight arrival at Heysham.  A great survey all round!


Grey Seal (Rick Morris)
Common Dolphin (Peter Howlett)

MARINElife blog: Seatruck ‘Clipper Point’ Heysham-Dublin 7 March 2017

Posted 13 March 2017

Rob Petley-Jones, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Outward: Wind Light force 2; Sea State 2; Visibility 6
Return: Wind Strong force 7-8; Sea State 2-3; Visibility 4-3

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3

Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8
Gannet Morus bassanus 7
Cormorant Phalacrocorax 29
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 5
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 48
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 9
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus graellsii 3
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 5
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 680
Common Gull Larus canus 66
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 77
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 18
Guillemot Uria aalge 270
Razorbill Alca torda 48
Unidentified auk sp. 21

Birds in Dublin Port:

Pale breasted Brent Goose Branta bernicla 51

Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 2

Wigeon Anas penelope 15

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 2

Terrestrial birds at sea:
Meadow PipitAnthus pratensis 2

Herring Gull 1st Winter Rob Petley-JonesA very efficient transfer to the Clipper Point meant that I was quickly established in my cabin for a good sleep before starting the survey at first light.

I made my way to the bridge for 0650 to see the sunrise behind the ship over the Welsh hills and set out the survey point.  The crossing was fairly calm, but despite these quiet conditions birds were initially very thin over the water, with only the occasional Kittiwake. However, as the ship approached Dublin Bay, several large groups of Guillemot boosted the bird total, while there was a welcome sighting of two Harbour Porpoise which passed quietly down the port side.

The approach to Dublin Port can often be hectic for the surveyor team, but there were smaller numbers of gulls on this occasion so recording was reasonably easy.  A small number of Mediterranean Gull were good to see, especially one adult in full summer plumage.  A good number of Black Guillemot were also in their fine summer state, but a solitary Great Northern Diver and a flock of Pale-bellied Brent Geese reminded me that Spring was still in transition from Winter.

Herring Gull 2nd Winter Rob Petley-JonesAs the ship manoeuvred to its berth, many gulls were attracted by the turbulent waters and the promise of some food!  This was a good opportunity to practise on my young gull identification, with the several intermediate stages of Herring Gull flying around just outside the bridge.

While the ship unloaded and reloaded its cargo (some very large concrete structures were last on board) I was given a splendid lunch and then watched the wildlife around the port, including more Brent Geese, a flock of Wigeon and pairs of Red-breasted Merganser and Mallard.

Herring Gull 3rd Winter Rob Petley-JonesHow the weather can change in the Irish Sea!  After just three hours in port, the Clipper Point slipped out into the shipping channel and made her way out past the breakwater, while I counted a few more Black Guillemot and the large numbers of Black-headed Gull at the power station outfall.  Beyond the breakwater, the Irish Sea had become quite animated as a southerly gale began to set in and observation conditions were difficult for the rest of the afternoon.

I was rewarded with one sighting of a Harbour Porpoise struggling through the large waves, and a few Fulmar enjoying the breeze!  A single Manx Shearwater late in the afternoon was a welcome reminder that spring was finally here.

My thanks as ever to Captain Tim Broughton and his crew for the warmth and friendliness of their welcome, and to Seatruck for their continued generous support for this valuable work by the MARINElife Research teams.


Herring Gull First Winter (Rob Petley-Jones)
Herring Gull Second Winter (Rob Petley-Jones)
Herring Gull Third Winter (Rob Petley-Jones)

MARINElife blog: Heysham-Dublin 7 February 2017

Posted 15 February 2017

This survey was cancelled for operational reasons.

MARINElife blog: Seatruck ‘Clipper Point’ Heysham-Dublin 17 January 2017

Posted 24 January 2017

Stephen Dunstan, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Wind SW 2; Sea State 1; Visibility generally clear, some mist

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 5
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 8
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 5
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 22
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 15
Common Gull Larus canus 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 9
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 17
Guillemot Uria aalge 498
Razorbill Alca torda 8
Large gull sp. 4
Auk sp. 32

I arrived at Heysham Port just before midnight and as ever the transfer to the boat was efficiently organized.  I was on the bridge just before 08.00 but unfortunately it was a grey day so the visibility took a while to improve.  As this was the first survey of this route in December or January survey time was at a premium, but soon a few seabirds began to show themselves.

Little Gull Peter Howlett 09After a couple of Gannet the first auks began to be seen.  These were largely Guillemot with a small proportion of Razorbill.  A couple of Fulmar passed north close to the boat, and a distant diver species could not be firmly identified.  Probably the best bird of the outward survey was an adult Little Gull in Dublin Bay.  In the calm weather I had hoped to pick out some Harbour Porpoise but it was not to be, though a Grey Seal was loitering around the berth as we unloaded in Dublin.

Whilst the boat was reloading a scan of the surrounding docks and Dublin Bay area produced species not seen on survey effort, including Mediterranean Gull and Great Crested Grebe.  A Hooded Crow landed on the boat for a while, always a good sighting for an England based observer.

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 12As we began our return journey the seas were very calm, but unfortunately as we left the harbour and entered Dublin Bay conditions were very misty for a while. This eventually lifted to give excellent cetacean viewing opportunities, enabling a pleasant survey which was further enlivened by a couple of brief Harbour Porpoise sightings, and finally two small pods of Common Dolphin actively feeding ahead of the boat.

Little Gull (Peter Howlett)
Common Dolphin (Peter Howlett)

MARINElife blog: Seatruck ‘Clipper Point’ Heysham-Dublin 29 November 2016

Posted 04 December 2016

Rob Petley-Jones and Mike Ducket, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Outward: Wind Variable force 1; Sea State 2; Visibility 6
Return: Wind Variable force 1; sea state 0-2; Visibility 6

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 13
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 24
Gannet Morus bassanus 9
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 9
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 32
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 98
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 18
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus graellsii 1
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 606
Common Gull Larus canus 110
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 417
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 65
Razorbill Alca torda 8
Unidentified auk sp. 36
Unidentified gull sp. 18

It was good to be back on the Clipper Point and, late in the evening though it was, we were warmly welcomed on board by Captain Tim Broughton.  This was Mike's first Marinelife survey so we had a chat over a cup of tea about the various survey protocols, before heading for our cabins for a good night's sleep as the ship eased out into a calm Irish Sea.

Sunrise at 08.15 found us on the bridge looking over a nicely calm seascape, all ready to find our first cetacean of the day.  The forecast was for the slight winds to drop even further, promising good spotting conditions as the day progressed.

Common Gull Rob Petley-Jones 01Despite the excellent viewing conditions, wildlife activity was quiet until we were closing with the Irish coast where we finally managed sightings of four individual Harbour Porpoise.  With the very light winds many of the birds were just sitting about on the water, but as we sailed into Dublin Port a steady stream of Common Gull and Black-headed Gull passed by, together with a small number of Mediterranean Gull.

After a welcome lunch, we spent the period in port by watching for wildlife around the Seatruck berth.  As the tide reached its height, a small number of Black Guillemot and Shag and a solitary Great Crested Grebe were fishing with some success in the adjacent tidal pools, while four Grey Seal loafed around in the main shipping channel, despite the passage of several large vessels!

Fulmar Rob Petley-Jones 01With the evenings drawing in early this time of year, a slightly early departure from the Seatruck berth guaranteed an extended period of recording.  With the wind dropping away to virtually nothing we were treated to a golden period of perfect viewing conditions, with several excellent sightings of Harbour Porpoise including a wonderful view of three adults and a calf slowly swimming away from the passing ship, bathed in late autumn sunshine.

Two sightings of Great Northern Diver flying past the bow of the ship were memorable, while a steady stream of Fulmar sightings in the deepening dusk brought an end to a short but very satisfying day of sea-watching.


Our thanks as ever to Captain Tim Broughton and his crew for the warmth and friendliness of their welcome, and to Seatruck for their continued generous support for this valuable work by the Marinelife Research teams.



Common Gull (Rob Petley-Jones)
Fulmar (Rob Petley-Jones)

MARINElife blog: Seatruck ‘Clipper Point’ Heysham-Dublin 25 October 2016

Posted 27 October 2016

John Perry, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Outward: Wind ESE force 2; Sea State 1; Visibility 4
Return: Wind S force 4; Sea State 2-3; Visibility 4

Summary of sightings:

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 18
Gannet Morus bassanus 5
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 19
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 22
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 8
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus graellsii 3
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 4
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 32
Common Gull Larus canus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 16
Guillemot Uria aalge 73
Razorbill Alca torda 3

I was welcomed aboard the 'Clipper Point' by the crew and shown to my cabin where I had a very peaceful night.

After a hearty breakfast I joined Captain Steve Hamer and his officers on the Bridge at 0745, and almost immediately an adult Gannet glided past the ship's bow.  Throughout the morning there were excellent views of gulls, Fulmar, Razorbill and Guillemot, and two Great Skua also made an appearance before we entered Dublin's beautiful harbour.

Great Skua Peter Howlett 10Whilst the ship reloaded, the morning's data was entered, and a stroll on the deck in pleasant sunshine was followed by a delicious lunch. The ship left Dublin on schedule and the return journey, although quieter in terms of sightings, was calm and comfortable.

As the light faded, I left the Bridge and entered the afternoon's data.  A most welcome hot drink and rest followed and we arrived back at Heysham on time. I would like to thank Captain Hamer and his crew for a very pleasant and comfortable journey.



Great Skua (Pete Howlett)

MARINElife blog: Seatruck ‘Clipper Ranger’ Heysham-Dublin 27th September 2016

Posted 12 October 2016

Rob and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Outward: Wind SW-W force 5-6; Sea State 5; Visibility 4-5 Return: Wind NW force 0-1; sea state 0-1; Visibility 6-5

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 8
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 5
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 50
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 13
Gannet Morus bassanus 106
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 23
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 30
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 39
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 8
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus graellsii 5
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 25
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 133
Common Gull Larus canus  4
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 22
Puffin Fratercula arctica  3
Guillemot Uria aalge 94
Razorbill Alca torda 17
Large gull Sp. 5
Auk Sp. 15

Terrestrial Birds at sea:
Swallow Hirundo rustica 15
Pipit Sp. 1


We had the usual efficient boarding of the Clipper Ranger and a warm welcome from the steward, and we were able to get a nice long sleep before beginning our survey at first light.  Actual survey time on this route begins to shorten significantly at this time of year, so we only had three hours of observation either side of the docking in Dublin.

Initial conditions were less than favourable for wildlife observation and there was a good swell and some strong cross winds which produced a rather lively sea!  A few Gannet, Fulmar and Manx Shearwater sightings were all we had until our approach to Dublin, where a small group of Harbour Porpoise gave us our only cetacean record of the outward crossing.  There was a clear movement of Swallow throughout the crossing as the last of the migrants battled their way south. 

Unusually there were no Black Guillemot at Dublin port, but a steady number of the now established Mediterranean Gull passed by as we eased toward the Seatruck dock.  The sea conditions remained lively right into Dublin port with a strong westerly wind, allowing Master Tim Broughton to show his supreme skill at bringing she ship to its berth!

Med Gull Rob Petley-Jones

Mediterranean Gull (Photo: Rob Petley-Jones) 

How different a few hours can make.  After a welcome lunchtime rest in the cabin we moved out of the berth into a much calmer Dublin Bay, with more sightings of Mediterranean Gull as they flew past the bridge on their way back into Dublin. 

Med Gull 2nd winter Rob Petley-Jones

2nd winter Mediterranean Gull (Photo: Rob Petley-Jones)

Very soon we had a couple more Harbour Porpoise encounters, followed by a brief sighting for Jane of three Common Dolphin.  A few more sightings of late Manx Shearwater and a solitary Grey Seal were the only other highlights of the crossing, and with sightings tailing off we finished the survey as the sun set behind us into a calm Irish Sea.

Our sincere thanks go as ever to the crew of the Clipper Ranger and in particular to Captain Tim Broughton for his ever friendly welcome to his bridge. 

Rob and Jane Petley-Jones,Research Surveyors for MARINElife

(Registered Charity No. 1110884



MARINElife blog: Seatruck ‘Clipper Ranger’ Heysham-Dublin 30 August 2016

Posted 05 September 2016

Stephen Dunstan and Sam Harper-Barber; Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Westbound: W 2-3, Eastbound SW 2-5

Summary of sightings:

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

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 324
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 210
Gannet Morus bassanus 66
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 3
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 30
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 16
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus graellsii 1
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 6
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 51
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 146
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 5
Guillemot Uria aalge 530
Razorbill Alca torda 538
Auk Sp. 154

Terrestrial Birds:
Swallow Hirundo rustica 2

The ships departure was later than scheduled due to tides, so I took the scenic route from home in Blackpool through the villages of Over Wyre.  There was a large flock of Pink-footed Geese at Pilling, and I picked out a Tundra Bean Goose among them to get the day off to a good start.

We arrived at Heysham terminal in good time and having booked in, made our way across to the Clipper Ranger, retired to our cabins for some sleep before an early morning start.

Arctic Skua Graham Ekins 01Unfortunately when he went up to the bridge at dawn we were met with thick fog which persisted for some time.  Eventually it did begin to lift, and when it did, highlights of the outward leg included a dark phase Arctic Skua harrying a juvenile Kittiwake and three separate Harbour Porpoise sightings including an adult and calf.

Although no passerine migrants were grounded on the vessel, during the fog we did see a couple of Swallow battling south over the waves after it cleared.  As we approached the port of Dublin several Mediterranean Gull were appreciated if largely expected these days, whilst all the ferries were dwarfed by a large cruise liner arriving for the day.

Fulmar Peter Howlett 17Our return crossing began with much better visibility, but there was a fair breeze up initially and we didn't see any cetaceans throughout the return leg. We were however privileged to see three separate Storm Petrel pattering across the water among other seabirds.  The fifth Arctic Skua of the trip was the first pale morph we had seen, and there were good numbers of Fulmar as well with over 300 being seen over the whole survey.

Thanks are due to the captain and crew of the Clipper Ranger for making us feel very welcome during our survey. The rain duly ceased as we left the berth, and the rest of the survey was blessed with slight to calm seas, which allowed for very productive surveying.

Dark phase Arctic Skua (Graham Ekins)
Fulmar (Pete Howlett)

MARINElife blog: Seatruck ‘Clipper Ranger’ Heysham-Dublin 26 July 2016

Posted 07 August 2016

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

Westbound: Wind ESE 1, sea state 2-0, swell 1-0, visibility 6-5
Eastbound: Wind SW 4, sea state 1-4, swell 0-2, visibility 5-3

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 18
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 3
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 37
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1067
Gannet Morus bassanus 108
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 157
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 35
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 55
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 4
Large gull sp  272
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus  613
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 22
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 219
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvincensis 4
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 159
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisea 30
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 31
Guillemot Uria aalge 1474
Razorbill Alca torda 176
Puffin Fratercula arctica 15
Auk Sp. 70

As ever, our boarding of the Clipper Ranger was managed with friendly efficiency by the Seatruck staff and we managed a few hours sleep before starting our survey at 06.00.

The conditions were pretty good although a few showers blotted the horizon at times. Seabirds were evident from the start, and we began to record good numbers of Guillemot and Manx Shearwater with a steady sprinkling of Kittiwake and Fulmar. It was good to see so many young Guillemot accompanied by parent birds and over a third of the birds we recorded were youngsters. There were even numbers of young Razorbill with parent birds.

Med Gull Rob Petley-Jones 03
Mediterranean Gulls on the approach to Dublin (Rob Petley-Jones)

A calm sea allowed good viewing conditions for cetacean spotting and pair of Common Dolphin early on was a promising start.  After a brief spell of rain, the sea calmed even further and we had a very rich spell when Harbour Porpoise were popping up with pleasing regularity, several with young animals in tow.

A strange bird on the sea had us guessing at all sorts of rarities, but photographs confirmed that is was a strangely marked second year Gannet - a good lesson to be careful about being misled by immature plumages!

Our approach to Dublin was again graced by a good number of Mediterranean Gull with numbers of Black Guillemot also adding to the spectacle.

Some welcome lunch served by the steward Kamil and a few hours rest fortified us for the start of the return leg. Strangely we saw no more Mediterranean Gull as we passed by the three lighthouses, although there were large numbers o0f Black-headed Gull and Cormorant perched on the breakwaters.

The wind had picked up significantly during the turn round in Dublin and the calm seas of the outward leg were replaced by choppy white-capped filled seascape for much of the return leg. This showed just how important calm sea conditions are for effective cetacean spotting as we saw only one Harbour Porpoise on the return to Heysham.

Guillemot numbers were still dominant and we were delighted to have a number of close views of Puffin, a species normally seen in only very small numbers on these surveys. A small flock of Kittiwake kept up with the ship for much of the crossing, often taking a rest on one of the container on the forward deck.

Kittiwake Rob Petley-Jones 03
Kittiwake (Rob Petley-Jones)

A solitary Common Dolphin near a feeding group of Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Guillemot and Fulmar was some reward, but even better was the surfacing of a Minke Whale just off the starboard beam! This species seems to be becoming a regular for this run so this sighting was not unexpected, but still very satisfying.

Rain finally caught up with us and we halted the survey at 20.00 because of poor light and spent a few hours relaxing and totting up the bird numbers as the ship steadily steamed towards Heysham harbour.

Our thanks as always to Seatruck and to the two masters Andy and Paul who made us very welcome on the ship and particular thanks to the Steward Kamil who kept us fed!

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Dublin 'Clipper Ranger' 28th June 2016

Posted 02 July 2016

Alison McAleer and Rob Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Westbound: Wind SE Force 1-2; Sea State 1-3; Swell 0-1; Visibility 4-5
Eastbound - Wind SE Force 1-3; Sea State 1-3; Swell 0-1; Visibility 5-6

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 19
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 3
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops tursiops 1
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 8

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 25
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2328
Gannet Morus bassanus 129
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 107
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 27
Phalacrocorax sp 34
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 48
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus graellsii 7
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 2
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 48
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 507
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvincensis 44
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 99
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 35
Guillemot Uria aalge 3171
Razorbill Alca torda 70
Puffin Fratercula arctica 3
Large gull sp 281
Auk Sp. 47
Diver sp 2
Tern sp 6

Terrestrial Birds:
Swallow Hirundo rustica 1
Feral Pigeon 1

Ocean Sunfish (possibly) 1

What a marvellous place the Irish Sea is!  Given the right conditions, it can provide excellent wildlife experiences that might be expected in more renowned ocean areas.  Such were the conditions for our survey across to Dublin from the Lancashire coast.

We arrived at Heysham port in the depths of the night and were quickly installed in our cabin on the Clipper Ranger to catch a few hours sleep before an early start on the bridge at 05.00.

Although the forecast was for heavy rain, we looked out over a virtually still sea bathed in soft dawn sunshine, and we soon realised this was to be a rare day that promised excellent conditions for wildlife recording.

Minke Whale Rob Petley-Jones 02Bird activity was non-stop across to Dublin Bay with very large numbers of Guillemot, several with recent chicks, while there was a steady passage of numbers of Manx Shearwater.  We were excited by several sightings of Harbour Porpoise, Bottlenose Dolphin and Common Dolphin, but were not prepared for what happened next!  A very large splash right alongside the starboard beam was followed by a very clear fluke print indicating the presence of a whale.  Almost immediately after a fine Minke Whale surfaced and blew, before rolling back into the water.

The quality of the survey continued to grow, and as we approached Dublin Port past the breakwater, we were welcomed by flocks of Mediterranean Gull.  Normally only present in low numbers in Dublin Bay, here were several dozen flying around and resting on the water with a few Kittiwake.

Despite the rain which finally arrived as we docked, we enjoyed the antics of the resident Black Guillemot flock next to the Seatruck berth and snatched a few hours rest on board the Ranger, before starting the return leg of the survey.

The rain duly ceased as we left the berth, and the rest of the survey was blessed with slight to calm seas, which allowed for very productive surveying.

Guillemot Rob Petley-Jones 01Guillemot and Manx Shearwater numbers continued to build, interspersed with smaller numbers of Razorbill and a few but always welcome sightings of Puffin.  We were perplexed by a distant view of a very strange flat object which we considered may have been an Ocean Sunfish, but the view was just too distant to be certain.

A golden period of flat sea rewarded us with regular sightings of Harbour Porpoise, often at some distance from the ship.  A couple more Common Dolphin sightings were very pleasant but both of us had our breath taken away when, as we were watching a distant Harbour Porpoise, another Minke Whale surfaced directly beyond and in full view of we two incredulous observers.

After a very long but satisfying day of wildlife recording, we gently approached a Lancashire coast bathed in fiery red hues from the midsummer setting sun, watched curiously by several lounging Grey Seal as we steamed towards to Heysham Harbour.

Huge thanks to the Master, Tim Broughton, who made sure we were fully accommodated and kept our spirits up with several seafaring tales and a very welcome supply of egg and bacon sandwiches on the morning run!  Thanks also to the Driver Steward who made sure we were comfortable and fed throughout the long day, and all at Seatruck for their so valuable continuing support of our work on the Irish Sea.

Minke Whale (Rob Petley-Jones)
Guillemot (Rob Petley-Jones)

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Dublin 'Clipper Ranger' 31st May 2016

Posted 06 June 2016

Vince Green and Suzie Miller, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Wind: SW 12-17 knots; Sea State: 0-3

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals:
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 45
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 947
Gannet Morus bassanus 1197
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 4
Shag Phalacorcorax aristotelis 7
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 22
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 14
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 51
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 98
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvincensis 9
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 1068
Shearwater sp. 5
Cormorant/Shag sp. 35
Gull sp. 1704
Tern sp. 153
Duck sp. 2

Terrestrial Birds:
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus 1

Gannet Peter Howlett 06Suzie and I were kindly invited on board by the crew of the Clipper Ranger who settled us in for a couple of hours sleep, ready for an early kick to the survey on a lovely sunny day on the very last day of May 2016.

Awake at 05.00 we went up to the bridge and got our heads down and the day began straight away with birds, birds, and more birds.

We had a full busy day on the journey to Dublin and back, seeing lots of Guillemot Kittiwake, Fulmar, Manx Shearwater and Common Tern.

Minke Adrian Shephard 04Alongside the excellent sunrise and sunset, we saw plenty of other species throughout the journey.  We had excellent weather conditions for most of the journey, and saw many of the birds feeding, with spectacular dives from hundreds of Gannet.

Feeling lucky to have seen the show from the Gannet, as we approached Dublin Bay we were pleased when we spotted a whale species ahead of the ship, which we believed to be a Minke.

The whole trip was a pleasure, and after surveying over 3000 birds we finished up at sunset back in Heysham feeling very pleased at a decent checkout time of 23.00.

An excellent voyage with an amazing crew, and big thanks to Captain Tim Broughton and the staff and Seatruck.

Gannet (Peter Howlett)
Minke Whale (Adrian Shephard)

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Dublin May 2016

Posted 10 May 2016

This survey was cancelled for logistical reasons.

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Dublin 'Clipper Ranger' 29th March 2016

Posted 04 April 2016

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

Outward - Wind WSW 2-3; Sea State 3 decreasing 1; Visibility 6
Return: Wind SW 2-4; sea state 1 increasing to 2; Visibility 6

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 4
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 21
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 105
Gannet Morus bassanus 37
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 28
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 10
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 23
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 10
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus graellsii 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 166
Common Gull Larus canus 111
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 4
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 552
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 473
Razorbill Alca torda 132
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 14
Unidentified large gull sp. 1
Unidentified auk sp. 27

Terrestrial Birds at sea:
Knot Calidris canutus 20
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 7
Pipit sp. 8

This was another late Monday night run down to Heysham for me and Jane with an easy transfer to the Clipper Ranger - how can the Seatruck staff and crew be so awake and friendly at 12.30am!  The Ranger is a new vessel for this run with its accommodation stacked all at the stern and with lots of steps to reach the cabins and bridge!  With the clocks having gone forward for British Summer Time a few days before, we were able to sleep well until 07.00 to be on the bridge to start recording by 07.30.

Manx Shearwater RPJ 2It was good to meet Captain Tim Broughton again, having sailed with him on one of the very first Heysham-Warrenpoint runs in 2011.  He and his officers were very welcoming and interested in our work.

The sea state was just too choppy for us to hope for many cetacean sightings, and we saw none on the first leg into Dublin.  However, there was a steady stream of Guillemot and Kittiwake throughout the crossing, with small numbers of Gannet and Fulmar.  A solitary Puffin reminded us how infrequently we see this super little bird out in the Irish Sea, while a welcome first sign of spring came with the first Manx Shearwater of the season.

BH Gull Rob Petley-Jones 01Razorbill numbers steadily built as we approached Dublin - such smart birds!  As we approached the port there were large numbers of Kittiwake, Common Gull and Black-headed Gull by the breakwater, with two smart second year Mediterranean Gull flying past the bridge. Some Cormorant in spectacular breeding plumage were seen around the various lighthouses and a single Red-breasted Merganser and small numbers of Black Guillemot accompanied us towards the Seatruck berth.

After a couple of hours rest when we were entertained by a small flock of Brent Goose and a lazy Grey Seal next to the berthed ship, we slipped out of Dublin port on the return leg.  Despite a steady SW breeze and a powerful swell (courtesy of Storm Katie of the previous day) we did manage to catch brief sightings of two pairs of Harbour Porpoise. A couple of Red-throated Diver and two more Mediterranean Gull flew by at one stage, but generally the return voyage was much as the outward leg, although we were pleased to see many more Manx Shearwater moving steadily north.

Despite our hopes, there were no more cetacean observations with only a solitary Grey Seal to excite us before the light began to fail as we passed the Great Orm far to the south.

Another satisfying survey with Seatruck, and our thanks goes to Captain Tim Broughton and his wonderful crew of the Clipper Ranger for their warm welcome and care throughout the voyage.


Manx shearwater (Rob Petley-Jones)
Black-headed gull (Rob Petley-Jones)

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Dublin 'Clipper Pace' 23rd February 2016

Posted 30 March 2016

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

Outward - Wind N 5-4; Sea State 3 to 4 decreasing 2; Visibility 6
Return -  Wind N-NW 3; sea state 1 increasing to 2; Visibility 6

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Grey seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 35
Gannet Morus bassanus 18
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 14
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 18
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 113
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus graellsii 4
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1202
Common Gull Larus canus 734
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 606
Guillemot Uria aalge 310
Razorbill Alca torda 37
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 17
Large gull sp. 1

Terrestrial Birds at sea:
Knot Calidris canutus 140

Jane and I arrived at Heysham at midnight and we were quickly onboard the Clipper Pace, where the extremely helpful steward soon sorted our cabin for the night.  By 07.30 we were up and breakfasted and on the bridge to see the sun rise over the distant Anglesey.

It was pretty quiet for the first hour or so with single Fulmar, Gannet, Kittiwake and Guillemot keeping us active.  The sea was rather choppy so hopes of cetacean sightings were low, and none were seen on the outward crossing.

Fulmar Rob Petley-Jones 02It was only as we approached Dublin that sightings became more regular, and we were treated to large rafts of Kittiwake and Common Gull feeding at the transition where the waters of the Liffy spread into Dublin Bay.  Searching for more exotic species through the very large group of Black-headed Gull and Common Gull congregated around the power station outfall proved unproductive, and we were escorted to our berth by a solitary Grey Seal.

As the ship reloaded its cargo, we spent a few minutes enjoying the resident Black Guillemot flock, but the chill wind soon drove us to the warmth of the lounge and some welcome dozing to fortify ourselves for the return trip.

Captain Paul Matthews escorted us to the bridge well in time for us to set up before the ship eased from its berth.  Immediately we were busy counting and identifying the large numbers of gulls as we passed out to sea past the lighthouses, with some light relief provided by a couple of Red-throated Diver and a large flock of Knot. Black Guillemot continued to be seen some way out from the port, but soon we were into a steady flow of Guillemot and Kittiwake, with Fulmar numbers picking up nicely as we headed out across the Irish Sea.

Guillemot Peter Howlett 12With a much calmer sea than that of a few hours earlier, Jane's patience in searching for cetaceans was finally rewarded with a brief view of a single Harbour Porpoise, and this proved to be the only sighting of the trip.

As the sun dipped to the horizon in the west, we reluctantly brought the survey to an end and made our way down to the lounge and a welcome supper.  We spent the long evening totalling the numbers of the day's sightings and rather bizarrely watching 'Trainspotting' on the lounge TV, as the Pace gently steamed across a tranquil moonlit sea toward the distant lights of the Lancashire coast.

Our thanks go as ever to the crew of the Clipper Pace and in particular to Jack the Third Officer, to the extremely helpful passenger steward, but especially to Captain Paul Matthews who was as welcoming and interested in our work as ever.

Fulmar (Rob Petley-Jones)
Black Guillemot (Peter Howlett)

MARINElife survey report: Heysham-Dublin January 2016

Posted 30 January 2016

This survey was cancelled for logistical reasons.

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Dublin December 2015

Posted 28 December 2015

Unfortunately this survey was cancelled.

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Dublin November 2015

Posted 13 November 2015

Unfortunately this survey was cancelled.

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Dublin 'Clipper Pace' 1 October 2015

Posted 21 October 2015

Rob and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Outward: Wind NE 2-3; Sea State 2 to 3; Visibility 6
Return: Wind NE 2-1; sea state 2 to 1; Visibility 6

Summary of sightings

Cetaceans and mammals:
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 19
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 17   

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 124
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 172
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 41
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 95
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 42
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 17
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus graellsii 4
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 4
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 419
Common Gull Larus canus 4
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 102
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 212
Razorbill Alca torda 30
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 10
Auk Sp. 12

Terrestrial Birds at sea:
Greylag Goose Anser anser 1
Turnstone Arenaria interpres 15
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis 1

Marine wildlife sightings in Dublin Port:
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Pale-bellied Brent Goose Branta bernicla 38
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 7

Even in the early hours the life of a freight ferry port continues to bustle, and Jane and I arrived at Heysham after midnight to find the Clipper Pace full of activity.  We were warmly welcomed aboard and were soon in our cabins to sleep for what was left of the night.

After an early breakfast, we were on the bridge in time to see the sunrise over the distant Welsh mountains, with a fine view from Great Orm in the east, past Anglesey and South Stack, and along the lleyn Peninsula to Bardsey Island   to the south-west.

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 12Wildlife sightings were initially sparse, but as we passed out into the Irish Sea sightings of the usual Gannet, Guillemot and Fulmar began to increase, while a solitary Manx Shearwater was the probably the last of the year.

As we approached the Irish Sea gyre expectation for mammal sightings grew, and a large group of plunge diving Gannet 3000 metres ahead was very promising.  Their frenzy continued as we drew alongside, when Jane picked up the first splashes of a sizeable pod of Common Dolphin.  We were then treated to an intense spectacle of dolphins actively leaping and feeding while many Gannet continued to plunge dive amongst them.

The photos of the diving Gannet group show a mysterious submerged large grey mass which we both missed at the time.  Whatever this was we will never know.  Intriguing and frustrating!

As we approached Dublin, gull numbers increased with good numbers of Black-headed Gull well out to sea, accompanied by several Mediterranean Gull and a late Sandwich Tern.  The Goldfinch that had been with the ship all voyage finally headed for land as we entered Dublin Port.

While the ship was in dock, we had a late second breakfast and then relaxed by watching all the activity of the port.  We were entertained by several Black Guillemot and a solitary Grey Seal loafing around the ship, while a skein of Pale-bellied Brent Geese flew over and away to the south.

Minke Whale Rob Petley JonesOnce the Pace was fully loaded, we were back on the bridge as the ship left port on time, to enter a much calmer Dublin Bay that offered even better conditions for cetacean spotting.  Within ten miles of the coast, we were amply rewarded with an excellent encounter with a Minke Whale which surfaced a number of times close off the starboard beam, the first large cetacean either of us had seen in our many surveys across the Irish Sea.

The conditions continued to give excellent visibility and the following hour was a continual recording of group after group of Harbour Porpoise, with 19 being seen in that short period.

As we sailed to within view of Anglesey, the slight increase in the NE winds meant we saw no more cetaceans, although there was a steady flow of Gannet and Fulmar until we decided to halt the survey as the sun sank behind the clouds in the west.

For their hospitality and patience with we landsmen, our sincere thanks go as ever to the crew of the Clipper Pace and in particular to Captain Paul Matthews who is always so welcoming and interested in the work of Marinelife.

Rob and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Dublin 'Clipper Pace' 18th August 2015

Posted 03 September 2015

Stephen Dunstan, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Conditions:  Wind SW 3-4; Sea State 3; Visibility clear

Summary of sightings

Cetaceans and mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Risso's Dolphin  Grampus griseus 2
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 16   
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 214
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2119
Gannet Morus bassanus 116
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 2
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 11
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 83
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus graellsii 9
Large gull sp 64
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 748
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis 7
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 178
Commic Tern Sterna/paradisaea 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 1148
Razorbill Alca torda 105
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Auk Sp. 207

I arrived at Heysham port just before midnight and was quickly onboard the Clipper Pace where I retreated to my cabin to get some sleep before daylight and the commencement of the survey.  

Great Skua Peter Howlett 05Joining the bridge at 06.00 I was pleased to see that the forecast relatively calm conditions had materialized.  Over the next couple of hours heading south of the Isle of Man towards Ireland there were good number of seabirds, particularly Manx Shearwater and auks (predominantly Guillemot).  

Three Great Skua and a couple of Puffin were a welcome addition to the tally and as we neared Dublin four pods of Common Dolphin totalling a minimum of 11 individuals were seen.

The return leg was in similarly fine conditions, and more cetaceans were seen.  A couple of small Common Dolphin were noted and one group of Harbour Porpoise passed the bridge heading north, while a Grey Seal was seen resting well out to sea.   

Rissos Dolphin Adrian Shephard 01The undoubted highlight of the survey however was seeing Risso's Dolphin on this route again, where at least a couple of animals were involved.  These were not that close to the ship and there may have been more than two.  

Lots more seabirds were recorded before these sightings dwindled away towards dusk, when a fabulous sunset marked the end of another successful survey on this new route.

Stephen Dunstan, Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Dublin 'Clipper Pace' 14th July 2015

Posted 29 July 2015

Nik Grounds and Stephen Dunstan, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions: Wind N; Sea State 2-4; Visibility clear

Summary of sightings

Cetaceans and mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 10
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 4
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 10   
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1    
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1    

Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 26
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 27
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 2
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1218
Gannet Morus bassanus 109
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 37
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 13
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 4
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus graellsii 5
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 15
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 306
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvincensis 2
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 164
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 4
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo /paradisaea 70
Guillemot Uria aalge 855
Razorbill Alca torda 67
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Auk Sp. 2

We arrived at Heysham port and transferred to the Clipper pace shortly after midnight and then soon in our cabins, prior to a dawn start at 5am.

Rissos Dolphin Adrian Shephard 07When we joined the bridge it was clear that the forecast conditions had materialised and were not far short of ideal for surveying with good visibility and little wind.  We gradually added a number of regular seabird species to the survey list as well as a small flock of Common Scoter which were notable in July and presumably returned early from their arctic breeding grounds.

A couple of cetacean sightings kept the spirits high, with Harbour Porpoise and Common Dolphin both being seen briefly.  Excitement then mounted when four large dorsal fins were seen ahead of the boat at about 300 metres range.  The shape of the fins and the relatively sedate activity led SD to suggest they were Risso's Dolphin and to our delight this proved to be the case.  

One animal was seen particularly well as we approached, with the white scarred skin characteristic of this species seen really well.  Although these dolphins occurs off Bardsey Island and there are fairly frequent reports from the Isle of Man, they are very rarely recorded on the Irish Sea survey routes so to have such good views was a real privilege.  

With the calm conditions continuing a couple more Common Dolphin and Harbour Porpoise records were added.  In terms of birds, larger numbers of Manx Shearwater began to be recorded as well as scarcer species with an Arctic Skua and then a Great Skua, though these proved to be the only ones of the trip.

Minke Peter Howlett 03We docked in Dublin around 11 am and took the chance to get some rest.  We began the return journey around 3 pm, giving at least six hours of daylight to hopefully add to what was already a good set of sightings.  A couple of Puffin were noted and small groups of Common Dolphin and Harbour Porpoise added to an already pleasing cetacean haul.  

As we left the Irish coast behind Nik saw a Minke Whale surfacing close in front of the boat going north.  Stephen dashed across the bridge and also saw it surface close to the boat heading east.  Minke Whale is rare on surveys in the Irish Sea so this was the icing on the cake for a great trip.

Thanks to Captain Steve Olbison and crew for their help and courtesy, and Seatruck staff at Heysham for a smooth transfer.

Nik Grounds and Stephen Dunstan, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham-Dublin 'Clipper Pace' 19th May 2015

Posted 01 May 2015

Nik Grounds and Andy Gilbert, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions: Wind NW; Sea State 4-2; Visibility clear

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2    
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 6    

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 14
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 465
Gannet Morus bassanus 31
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 18
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 2
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 338
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 26
Commic Tern Sterna/paradisaea 5
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvincensis 16
Guillemot Uria aalge 413
Razorbill Alca torda 58
Auk Sp.    95
Tern sp. 12
Wader sp. 3

This was the very first Marinelife survey on this new route and we were eager to get started when we boarded the Seatruck Pace at Heysham at half past midnight!  After being welcomed by Captain Paul Matthew we quickly settled down to get a few hours sleep in our cabins whilst the ship left port.

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 13We were up on the bridge at 5.30am with the Isle of Man in view off the starboard beam.  Visibility was clear but sea state was level 4.  There were good numbers of Manx Shearwater and Kittiwake were spotted throughout the crossing and an Arctic Skua was picked up not long into the survey.  

Around 6.30 am three Common Dolphin appeared on the crest of the waves just in front of the ship before disappearing into the seas.  This was to be the norm as all cetacean sightings throughout the trip were brief and sighted within 300 metres.  Considering the handful that were spotted close to the ship in such a relatively difficult sea state it seems likely that there were good numbers in the Irish Sea on the day, and possibly with better conditions we could have had larger sightings.  The ship's officers spoke about big numbers of dolphins in Dublin Bay the day before!

A Great Skua, some Gannet, Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar and another dolphin sighting added to the variety and as we approached Ireland, when some Common Tern and the occasional Sandwich Tern made an appearance.  We passed Dublin breakwater by 11.15am and retired from the bridge to watch several Black Guillemot and terns in the harbour before getting our heads down for a couple of hours.

Sandwich tern RPJAt 2.30pm we were off again and whilst the sea state had reduced a little it was still at level 3.  A number of Sandwich Tern were logged along with another two Common Dolphin and two Harbour Porpoise.  Towards the end of the survey 3 unidentified waders crossed some distance in front of the bow of the ship, but by 9pm visibility had diminished enough to call an end to our watch and we retired for a couple more hours sleep before docking at Heysham at 12.30am.  We were in our cars and heading off home by 1am.

We had an excellent survey and as a new route we both agreed that the ability to complete it in a day made it an interesting one for the future.  It was certainly a long day but there were enough opportunities to catch up with sleep to make it more than achievable.  As always, thanks to Seatruck for supporting our work and to Captain Paul Matthew and his crew for their excellent hospitality.

Nik Grounds and Andy Gilbert, Research Surveyors for MARINElife