MARINElife blog: Seatruck ‘Clipper Panorama’ Heysham-Dublin 2 July 2019

Carol Farmer-Wright, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Weather Conditions:
Outbound: Dry with decreasing cloud, sea-state 3-4, wind force 3-4 W-NW, visibility good.
Return: Dry with decreasing cloud, sea state 2-4, wind force 1-5 NNE-WNW, visibility good.

Summary of Sightings:

Cetaceans and Seals:
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5
Unidentified Seal sp. 1

Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 1
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1422
Gannet Morus bassanus 189
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 19
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 36
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 8
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 373
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 11
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 413
Razorbill Alca torda 70
Auk sp. 45

Terrestrial Birds:
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 1

I drove up to Heysham as the sun was setting and arrived at the port at 11pm.  My booking was processed, and I was driven to the ship where I found my cabin and settled down for the night, ready for a 4:15 am morning alarm.

I woke to a calm sea and went to the bridge to start surveying. At that time the vessel was south of the Isle of Man with Anglesey in the distance on the port side.  Initially the sky was overcast but the heat of the day soon started to burn the cloud back.

Manx Shearwater Rob Petley-Jones 03An hour into the survey a single seal was seen 'bottling' in the distance, with Manx Shearwater, Guillemot, Razorbill, Gannet and Kittiwake being the main species of birds to be seen.  Nearing Dublin, many of these birds were seen in mixed groups, rafting on the water or in feeding groups, indicating that fish were nearby. Despite my looking closely at these groups I was unable to ascertain if any cetaceans were in attendance.  However, I made a mental note to use a dictaphone on the early section of the return leg in the afternoon in case sightings became more frequent

We docked in Dublin and during the turn-around I entered the data I had gathered in the morning, and the ship began its return to Heysham at 13:30.  Entering Dublin Bay, I watched Common Tern, European Shag, Cormorant, Black-headed Gull and a single Mediterranean Gull before returning to the open sea and the return of sightings of auks.

The majority of auks were Guillemot, with occasional Razorbill and a couple of delightful Puffin.  The Guillemot were either in adult groups or some were adult males with their 'jumplings', this year's young birds.  These young Guillemot are unable to fly and literally jump from the ledges where they had hatched, and are then accompanied by one parent, usually the male, until they are old enough to fly. At this early stage in their life they are less than half the size of their parent and it is always a wonder to me that they can survive in what can be a hostile environment.

Minke Adrian Shephard 03aAn hour after departing Dublin I recorded a brief sighting of a Minke Whale swimming to our port side.  The roll of the animal was so slight it showed how it deserved the name 'Slinky Minke' as it hardly ruffled the surface of the water.  Another Minke was seen 12 minutes later, this one surfacing 400 metres ahead of the ship and immediately adopting a deep dive posture to avoid our approaching vessel.

Within the next thirty-five minutes, five Harbour Porpoise were also seen.  One had to move swiftly as it had surfaced close to our ship, having to make a quick getaway. A final Harbour Porpoise was seen whilst I was watching a Kittiwake that seemed to be hunting for food - the bird was actually watching the porpoise's movements below the surface!

The survey continued with more sightings of Manx Shearwater, Guillemot and the occasional Kittiwake.  Sightings tailed off as dusk approached and I left the bridge at the 21:15 to write up the sightings I had observed during the day.

My thanks go to Captain Suharevs, his officers and crew for making me so welcome aboard the Seatruck Panorama and of course to the shore staff of Seatruck for making this survey possible.

Manx Shearwater (Rob Petley-Jones)
Minke Whale (Adrian Shephard)