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:
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
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.
Bird 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 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)