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