MARINElife blog: Heysham-Dublin 'Clipper Pace' 3rd December 2019

Carol Farmer-Wright; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Outward - sunny; good visibility; calm; wind initially SW turning SSW force 2 decreasing 1
Return - sunny; good visibility throughout; wind direction ENE turning SSW force 2-7

Summary of Sightings
Cetaceans and mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 13
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 4
Unidentified dolphin sp. 1
Unidentified seal sp. 1

Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 296
Common Gull Larus canus 25
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 25
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 160
Guillemot Uria aalge 232
Razorbill Alca torda 3
Diver sp. 4
Larus sp. 148
Auk sp. 146

The last time I surveyed on this route was in July when the days were long.  Now, less than three weeks to the shortest day, the sunset at 3:56 pm would mean far less surveying time. On this route you join the ship at 23.00 on the Monday, and I arrived at Heysham and was onboard the 'Pace' within half an hour of it docking, where I settled down to sleep for the night, looking forward to the survey starting just before 8 am the following day.

The crossing was smooth and I arrived on the bridge just over 2 hours before docking in Dublin.  The sea was calm and the wind was slight giving an excellent chance of seeing any marine mammals, and my first sighting was of a Harbour Porpoise that occurred within the first hour.  Looking closely, I could see a small dorsal fin of a calf swimming close to its mother - a great start to the survey!

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 01

Harbour Porpoise (Peter Howlett)

Within the next hour eight further mammal sightings of seal and cetacean occurred in rapid succession, one of the most memorable being the two Harbour Porpoise swimming close to one of the rocky islands near Dublin, accompanied by many auks and several Black-headed Gull.

Birds started appearing slowly as the sun rose, with Herring Gull, Guillemot, other auk species and Kittiwake being most frequently recorded.  Most of the adult Guillemot were in winter plumage, but some had already transitioned to their adult breeding plumage. The 'jumplings' from the summer had now grown to adult size, but some were still having issues with flying and would drop to the water after a short time, still needing to build up their endurance.

Dublin Bay is a safe haven for many wintering seabirds and many Common Gull, Black-headed Gull and larger gull species together with European Shag, Cormorant and divers were encountered.  I stopped surveying as the vessel entered the outer harbour entrance and went downstairs to compile my sightings.

Just over three hours later we left Dublin harbour and began the return journey.  In that time the sea state had risen enough to make mammal sightings more challenging, but nevertheless I was able to record a Grey Seal just after exiting the harbour, swimming slowly towards a green channel marker buoy.  There were three further mammal sightings, sadly one being of a dead Grey Seal.  The other two sightings were brief glimpses of Harbour Porpoise and a probable dolphin species swimming quickly away from our vessel.

Grey Seal Rick Morris 06

Grey Seal (Rick Morris)

The majority of birds seen on the return survey were Kittiwake and Guillemot, with one group of Kittiwake spread out in front of the ship in a long line, feeding on a shoal of fish.

The light stated to fade at 3:45p.m so soon afterwards I stopped the survey and descended downstairs to finish the data entry.

My thanks as always go to Seatruck, Captain Victors Suharevs, the officers and crew of the Seatruck Pace and the shore staff that make surveying on this route such a pleasurable experience.

Carol Farmer-Wright, Research Surveyor for MARINElife