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