Alison McAleer and Rob Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for
Winds: Westbound 5-8 WSW; Storm in eastern Irish Sea overnight; Eastbound 4-5 WSW
Total observations from
Cetaceans and mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 37
Birds seen at sea:
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 308
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 5492
Gannet Morus bassanus 478
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 26
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Common Scoter Merlanitta nigra 43
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 3
Skua sp 1
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 2
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 13
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 11
Large Gull sp. 73
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 178
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 100
Common Gull Larus canus 17
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisea 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 449
Razorbill Alca torda (recorded from Arrow on return leg prior to survey)
Little Auk Alle alle 6
Puffin Fratercula arctica 9
We received a very warm welcome aboard the Pace from Captain Peter Hilbert and his crew and were on the bridge well in time before setting off from Heysham harbour after the usual hearty breakfast. The forecast was for increasing winds with the possibility of stormy conditions overnight, and the sea beyond Lune Deep and out into the Irish Sea became increasingly lively and conditions for cetacean spotting were consequently very poor. There were a couple of Grey Seal seen on our way out towards the Isle of Man, and a very brief possible sighting of a Harbour Porpoise.
Bird records were relatively quiet before Isle of Man, with several small rafts of Common Scoter seen while we were still in view of the Fylde coast and a brief moment of high drama as two dark-phased Arctic Skua were seen chasing a group of Kittiwake just in front of the ship's bow. More drama came in the form of a number of Gannet diving spectacularly from height near one of the gas rigs along the ferry route. It was good to see several ages of Gannet as individuals sailed past the bridge, with some of this year's fledged birds in their lovely grey-brown speckled plumage.
Our work rate rose dramatically after we had passed the Isle of Man when we started to pick up our first Manx Shearwater groups. Numbers of these birds steadily increased as we steamed towards Ireland and for well over an hour the whole sea seemed to be alive with these smart little seabirds, mixed in with good numbers of Gannet and Kittiwake. To see such an abundance of wildlife was a truly exceptional experience and we would not have been surprised if David Attenborough had appeared with his film crew to capture the spectacle!
Supper on board as we sailed into Carlingford Lough provided a most welcome break from a hectic but very satisfying afternoon of recording, and we left the Pace in great heart and very much looking forward to the return journey on the following morning.
But there is no accounting for the weather! I am sure all Marinelife Research teams are impressed with how friendly and helpful the Seatruck team are, and the events of the following day proved just how helpful they can be!
A short but fierce storm that passed down the east side of the Irish Sea overnight had meant that the Pace on her return to Heysham had not been able to berth there. Consequently, our planned sailing from Warrenpoint on the Anglia had regretfully been cancelled by Seatruck, leaving us apparently well and truly marooned!
Not so...within a couple of hours the extremely helpful Seatruck Office Manager at Warrenpoint had arranged for us to return to Heysham on the Arrow out of Dublin, with only a little delay in our itinerary. So, after an unplanned but very enjoyable bus trip down to Dublin via Newry, we were welcomed aboard the Arrow by yet another very friendly Seatruck crew. Within an hour of sailing from Dublin, and with the extremely kind permission of the ship's First Officer, we were again on the bridge recording the abundant sea life that the storm of the previous night had left in the Irish Sea.
The offshore waters were again full of very large rafts of Manx Shearwater, while there was a much greater number of Fulmar than had been seen on the previous day's passage. Most birds were resting on the sea, perhaps recovering from the rigours of the storm the previous night.
Perplexingly, our potentially most exciting record was too brief for us to be totally certain. When a raft of extremely small auks in company with a Guillemot passed very quickly down the port beam, we knew these were something very different from the usual bird life, and it is possible they were a group of storm driven Little Auk. If only the camera had been closer to hand....!
A serene sunset over the slow swell of the Irish Sea ended a very eventful and satisfying couple of days research for Marinelife despite some considerable unplanned changes to our itinerary, and we extend our deep gratitude to the magnificent folk of Seatruck for making it all possible.
Alison McAleer and Rob Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife