Sightings Archives: July 2015

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