MARINElife Survey Report: Heysham–Warrenpoint 'Clipper Panorama’ and 'Clipper Pennant' 17th - 18th April 2014

Rob Petley-Jones and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Westbound - Wind W force 5-6; Sea State 3-4; Swell 1; Visibility 5-6
Eastbound - Wind Variable force 1-2; Sea State 0-1; Swell 0; Visibility 6


Cetaceans and Seals:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 27
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 23
Dolphin sp. 1

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellate 4
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 10        
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 22
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 129
Gannet Morus bassanus 172
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 25
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 33
Pale-breasted Brent Goose Branta bernicla 14
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 2
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 16
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 2
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 2
Skua sp. 1
Common Gull Larus canus 72
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 52          
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 63    
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 56
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 10
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 71
Unidentified large gull sp. 399
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 88
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 26
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 29
Guillemot Uria aalge 277
Razorbill Alca torda 56
Unidentified auk sp. 15

Other marine wildlife
Barrel Jellyfish Rhizostoma octopus 3

Other waterbirds recorded in Carlingford Lough and Heysham harbour:
Pale-breasted Brent Goose Branta bernicla 10
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 2
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 4
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 17

After the usual friendly and efficient check in at Heysham and transfer to the Clipper Panorama for breakfast, we were welcomed by the Master onto the bridge before departure.  Conditions were clear but cloudy, with a steady Westerly wind, so we were prepared for some choppy conditions.

Black Guillemot RPJDespite these conditions, the first couple of hours of recording was rewarding with early sightings of Harbour Porpoise as we crossed the Lune Deep and regular flurries of Little Gull further out toward the Isle of Man.  We had some excellent views of Red-throated Diver in full summer plumage and a smart little pair of Red-breasted Merganser, whilst a fast flying but distant skua proved too difficult to allow identification.  A pair of dark-phase Arctic Skua were more accommodating as they flew right past the bow of the ferry.

As usual, the areas around the Isle of Man proved fairly quiet with a few Kittiwake, Manx Shearwater and Gannet helping to keep us entertained.  More unusually the approach to the Irish Coast was very quiet and a steady swell and choppy sea made sighting wildlife difficult.  A lot of splashing from an unidentified dolphin provided a briefly exciting interlude.
As we approached Carlingford Lough bird activity increased and we were entertained by small groups of Black Guillemot in the water, whilst a magnificent summer plumage Great Northern Diver was a most welcome sight.

Despite the fairly difficult conditions of the crossing, we were satisfied with the tally of six Harbour Porpoise and the unidentified dolphin, and we spent a pleasant evening with a stroll into Rostrevor with its magnificent park and the impressive Ross Memorial.

Great Northern Diver RPJThe following day was so different, with very light winds and a mirror calm Carlingford Lough providing a welcome view as we boarded the Clipper Pennant at Warrenpoint.  Although this vessel has not hosted a Marinelife survey before, Steve the Master and his steward could not have been more accommodating, and we were made very welcome on board.

Although we have both made this crossing many times in the last few years, we have never experienced a sea so calm.  With no swell and an almost mirror surface for the whole crossing, this allowed us to experience the true quality if the Irish Sea marine fauna.  Conditions were perfect for spotting Harbour Porpoise and we recorded a total of 21 for the whole crossing, as well as two separate sightings of Bottlenose Dolphin as we approached the Isle of Man.

The excellent conditions allowed us to record four times as many individuals as on the outward crossing, with many sitting out the calm on the almost mirror flat sea.

Highlights were small skeins of light-breasted Brent Goose and a dispersed group of nine summer plumage Great Northern Diver as we passed out of Carlingford Lough.  There were also good numbers of Sandwich Tern and Black Guillemot, while several extensive rafts of large gulls and of Manx Shearwater provided brief flurries of hectic recording in a passage where bird activity was steady.

The lack of waves and broken water made other observations possible.  As we approach the Lune Deep we had several sightings of Barrel Jellyfish with one particularly large brown creature being at least a metre across!

Our thanks as always to the Captains and crew of both the Panorama and Pennant for making us so welcome.
Rob Petley-Jones and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife