MARINElife blog: Seatruck ‘Clipper Point’ Heysham-Dublin 3 July 2018

Alison McAleer and Rob Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Outward: Wind: ENE 2-3; Sea State: 3; Swell: 1; Visibility: clear
Return: Wind: NE 3-2; Sea State: 2; Swell: 1; Visibility: clear

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 9
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 28
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 458
Gannet Morus bassanus 87
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 8
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 16
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 342
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 174
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 15
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 14
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 9
Common Gull Larus canus 77
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 1215
Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis 4
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 20
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 7
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaes 90
Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii 1
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 767
Razorbill Alca torda 28
Large gull sp. 518
Tern sp. 3
Auk sp. 28
Wader sp. 1

Terrestrial Birds:

Swift Apus apus 4


Birds in Dublin Port:

Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1

Common Tern Sterna hirundo 65

Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 15

Mixed gulls on distant mudflats 1200


After boarding the Clipper Point at 23.00 we were very quickly shown to our cabins, and managed to catch a few hours of sleep before starting the survey very early the following day.


We were on the bridge and recording by 05.30 and birds were already to become active.  Almost the first bird we saw was a Pomarine Skua resting on the sea, before it took off and flapped away to the north.  The more usual seabirds were very active with significant numbers of Kittiwake, Manx Shearwater, Razorbill and Guillemot flying to and from feeding areas.  It looked like there was very good feeding available as many of the auks were seen carrying sardine-like fish off to their nesting sites.


As we approached Dublin we began to pick up increased numbers of gulls, mostly Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull and Common Gull but also some Mediterranean Gull in spectacular breeding plumage.  A few Black Guillemot were pottering around as well.


Arctic Tern Rob Petley-Jones 01As the ship slowly approached it berth, Alison spotted a Harbour Seal lazily rolling in the turbulence caused by the ship's bow thrusters. After lunch we enjoyed watching numbers of Arctic Tern and Common Tern as the ship loaded its cargo, as well as a Little Egret that flew up river.


The return trip started off with good numbers of gulls as we exited Dublin port, but then became rather quiet for birds.  Half way across as the ship passed to the south of the Isle of Man, we finally caught up with marine mammals with two sightings of loafing Grey Seal.


Our patience in waiting for cetacean sightings was finally rewarded when we spotted a small group of Harbour Porpoise moving quickly and splashily out of the way of the approaching ship.  This was followed not long after by a playful pod of Common Dolphin which broke off from hunting to speed towards the bows of the ship in hope of a game of bow-riding!


Moon Jellyfish Swarm Rob Petley-JonesWe had enjoyed the many Common Tern and Arctic Tern that were nesting on the artificial platforms in Dublin harbour but as we passed close to Anglesey it was good to see numbers of these sea-swallows well out at sea looking for food.  Many seemed to be having some success as they carried off fish back towards their nesting sites on the coast. We paid some attention to identifying these birds and although many remained stubbornly as Commic Tern, we managed to confirm a number as Common Tern and Arctic Tern and most excitingly at least one as a Roseate Tern, presumably out from its nesting site on the island.


As the ship left Anglesey behind we passed through large swarms of jellyfish close to the sea's surface.  Most of these were large swarms of Moon Jellyfish, but there were good numbers of Lion's Mane Jellyfish and a few Barrel Jellyfish in the mix.  At times the sea looked like jellyfish soup!


Balloon Pollution Rob Petley-JonesMuch less welcome sights were the large numbers of half-inflated plastic balloons floating on the surface, many with trailing plastic string. With so much plastic poison waiting to kill our valuable wildlife, why is there not a ban on pointless and irresponsible balloon releases?


One of the stranger sights we encountered on our return voyage was not to do with wildlife but with the hot weather!  The heat of the day had created ae extensive mirage on the eastern horizon, making the Anglesey coast look like huge sea cliffs, while South Stack lighthouse was transformed into a Saturn 5 rocket ready for take-off!


These mid-summer surveys allow recording to be carried out deep into the evening, and although there was a distinct lull in bird activity as the evening progressed we persisted in the hope of more cetacean records.  During these quiet recording periods we were entertained by a sub-adult Gannet which spent a couple of hours escorting the ship and allowing some superb close-up views as it soared past the bridge windows.  'Graham' (as Alison called him!) finally left us to investigate what tasty morsel another Gannet had caught with a spectacular dive into the outer waters of Morecambe Bay!


Sunset over Morecambe Bay Rob Petley-JonesAs we approached the Lune Deep we drew the survey to a close as a fiery sun set into the Irish Sea beyond the Morecambe Bay windfarm.


Our thanks to Seatruck for their fantastic support of Marinelife surveys, to Captain Victors Suharevs and his crew for their warm welcome, and very special thanks to the passenger steward who with warm good humour kept us fed and comfortable!


Arctic Tern (Rob Petley-Jones)
Moon Jellyflish Swarm (Rob Petley-Jones)
Balloon Pollution (Rob Petley-Jones)
Sunset over Morcombe Bay (Rob Petley-Jones)