MARINElife blog: Seatruck ‘Clipper Panorama’ Heysham-Dublin 09 April 2019

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

Weather Conditions:
Outbound: Wind: ENE 4-5; Sea State: 4-5; Swell: 1; Visibility: clear
Return: Wind: NE 4-5; Sea State: 4-5; Swell: 1; Visibility: clear.

Summary of Sightings:

Cetaceans and Seals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 25
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 28
Gannet Morus bassanus 63
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 51
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 10
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 84
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 67
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 8
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 6
Mediterranean Gull Ichthyaetus melanocephalus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 170
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 205
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 8
Guillemot Uria aalge 189
Razorbill Alca torda 97
Large gull sp. 2
Mixed gull sp. 200+ (power station outlet)
Auk sp. 7

Terrestrial Birds
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba 1
Warbler Phylloscopus sp. 3

Birds in Dublin Port
Pale-breasted Brent Goose Branta bernicla hrota 8
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 8

This was my second MARINElife seabird and cetacean survey from Heysham to Dublin and it got off to a much more welcoming start.  My first trip had started through squally heavy rain, but this trip began with a crisp, clear spring morning and promised an enjoyable voyage to Ireland and back.

Our vessel was the Clipper Panorama with Captain Viktor Suharev at the helm.   The friendly steward prepared us for the day with an early breakfast of fried eggs, beans and bacon (although being a vegetarian I gave the bacon a miss) and by 06:45 we were on the bridge with a blood-red sunrise over the Welsh hills behind us.

Rob is very experienced on this route and had suggested we would encounter returning Manx Shearwater on this trip and sure enough one of the first seabirds observed was one of these wonderful creatures, cruising effortlessly over the waves.

The sea state was between 4 and 5 but the bright sunshine gave us good viewing conditions and seabirds were recorded steadily during the crossing to Dublin, including good numbers of Guillemot, Razorbill and Kittiwake, with two Puffin being a nice reward for our efforts. We also recorded a wayward terrestrial species, an ever-perky Pied Wagtail which took a breather on the bridge railing, while some brave migrating Phylloscpus warblers battled determinedly north over the waves!

Black Guillemot Peter Howlett 02With a sea state of 5, it was not surprising that we saw no marine mammals on the outward leg, but as we approach Dublin our spirits were buoyed by the sight of several Black Guillemot bobbing on the water - this species was a first for me!

While the ship unloaded and reloaded its wagons, and after we had had a welcome lunch, Rob braved the keen breeze to watch a flock of Pale-bellied Brent Geese and the ever-present Black Guillemot while I took the opportunity to rest up for an hour!


Leaving Dublin in good time, it was a pleasant surprise for us both to observe a Harbour Porpoise taking evasive action by diving sharply away from the approaching ship.  On the rest of the return journey the two most common seabirds were again Kittiwake and Guillemot, with good numbers of Razorbill as well.  As the sea state calmed down to 3 this provided better chance for observations than the outbound trip.  This allowed me to observe two more Harbour Porpoise (a lucky scanning pick-up) all on my own, while Rob took his turn for a quick rest!


Much less welcome were the seemingly ever-present spent balloons, no doubt released from some children's parties and now just waiting to snare an unsuspecting marine animal.  One sported the message, 'Boy or Girl?', and was no doubt a release from a baby shower - unfortunately all it really meant was 'Dead sea animal'! We really do need an educational program for those who continue to make mass releases of balloons, in the mistaken view that this is a good way to celebrate events.


Overall a very satisfactory survey, with good weather and a very supportive Clipper Panorama crew, so thanks to Seatruck for supporting MARINElife.


Black Guillemot (Peter Howlett)
Pale-bellied Brent Goost (Rob Petley-Jones)
Balloon Pollution (Rob Petley-Jones)