MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries ‘Clipper Pennant’ & ‘Clipper Panorama’ Heysham-Warrenpoint 18-19 May 2017

Jane and Rob Petley-Jones, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Outward: Wind force 1-3 S; good visibility; sea state 1-3; swell 1
Return: Wind force 0-1 SW; good visibility; sea state 0-2; swell 0-1

Summary of sightings:

Marine mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 18
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 1
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 27
Harbour Seal
Phoca vitulina 1

Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 18
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 447
Gannet Morus bassanus 90
Cormorant Phalacrocorax 24
Shag Phalacrocorax aritotelis 52
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 18
Long-tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 5
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 130
Lesser Black-backed Gul Larus graellsii 48
Great Black-Backed Gull Larus marinus 21
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 322
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 3
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 47
Black Guillemot Cepphus grille 24
Guillemot Uria aalge 179
Razorbill Alca torda 34
Unidentified auk sp.   3
Unidentified tern sp.   1
Unidentified gull sp.   512

Terrestrial birds at sea:
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 2
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 3
Dunlin Calidris alpina 35
Unidentified wader sp.  3
Swallow Hirundo rustica 3

Terrestrial birds at Warrenpoint Port:
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 12

As ever, our transfer onto the Clipper Pennant was very efficient and we were soon enjoying our breakfast before being ushered to the bridge where we were warmly welcomed by Captain Steven Olbison.  Conditions for the two days were forecast to be very good for marine observations, so we left Heysham Port in a state of high expectation.

There was a steady flow of birds for the first hour with numbers of Razorbill, Guillemot and Gannet as well as flights of Common Scoter and Dunlin.  Jane spotted a group of Harbour Porpoise but then things went quiet with only a few Barrel Jellyfish to look out for.  However, our patience was soon to be rewarded when a group of feeding Kittiwake attracted our attention.  Eagerly we looked for signs of any cetacean activity, and a Risso's Dolphin appeared!

Minke Whale Rob Petley-Jones 02Could things get better? Yes, they could!  Thanks to the eager eyes of the watch officer who cried 'Dolphin!', our attention was drawn to a very large splash immediately in front of the ship, followed by the blow of a Minke Whale.  This magnificent animal surfaced several times off the port side of the ship before taking a deep dive.

With a lively sea state across to Carlingford Lough we saw no more cetaceans but bird numbers remained steady with Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake and Fulmar, and a Long-tailed Skua rounding off a very satisfying first leg of the survey.  A spectacular thunderstorm welcomed us to Warrenpoint, with perhaps the most stunning rainbow ever seen to follow!

Warren point Port Rainbow Jane Petley-JonesAfter a quiet night at the Lough and Quay, we started the second day with an early walk to the Clipper Panorama for a very welcome breakfast, before heading for the bridge where we were greeted by Captain Andy Bradbury and a wonderful view of the mirror-calm Carlingford Lough.  As the ship prepared to leave, we recorded the birds in the harbour, which included a Little Egret and several Black Guillemot.  A Great Northern Diver just out from the lighthouse was good to see but a dead Grey Seal floating by was not so welcome.

Never before have we had a crossing which was so calm - mostly sea state 0, with occasional disturbances to sea state 1!  Mediterranean is the only word to describe the view, with mirror-calm seas and brilliant blues skies - perfect conditions for cetacean spotting!  A steady flow of Harbour Porpoise sightings and included a group of four, calmly swimming though a flat sea.  Although this was most satisfying, numbers were perhaps not as high as we hoped.

Carlingford Lough Jane Petley-JonesHowever, as we approached the location of yesterday's whale record just south of the Isle of Man, we were on heightened alert for another view.  A bright gleam of reflected sunshine off a rolling back a kilometre from the ship proved to be another sighting of Minke Whale.  This animal (the same as yesterday's?) looked to be feeding and surfaced several times over the next few minutes.  The fishing boat some 100 metres from the animal must have had a wonderful view!

After this encounter, the following very quiet afternoon mattered not a bit and we sailed calmly into Heysham Harbour bang on time.  A very satisfying two days of survey on this magnificent body of water, the Irish Sea!

Our thanks as ever to the Masters and crews of the Pennant and Panorama (and a special mention for both the Passenger Stewards for keeping us fed!), and to Seatruck for continuing to support our survey work of marine life in the Irish Sea!

Minke Whale (Rob Petley-Jones)
Warrenpoint Port Rainbow (Jane Petley-Jones)
Carlingford Lough (Jane Petley-Jones)