MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries ‘Seatruck Precision’ and 'Clipper Point' Heysham-Warrenpoint 1-2 August 2019

Duncan Fyfe, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Weather Conditions:
Outbound: Sea state and wind force 1-4; good visibility; no precipitation; wind SW-W.
Return: Sea state 1-3; good visibility but some starboard side glare; wind SE.

Summary of Sightings:

Cetaceans and Seals:
Common Dolphin Delphinius delphis 7
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 20
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 8
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 64 (including 58 on mud flats)
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 11
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 13
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1527
Gannet Morus bassanus 161
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 5
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 3
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 9
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 27
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 27
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 43
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 3
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 12
'Commic Tern' Sterna hirundo paradisaea 6
Puffin Fratercula arctica 3
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 434
Razorbill Alca torda 1
Little Auk Alle alle 1
Larus sp. 20
Auk sp. 248

Terrestrial birds:
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 1

After a filling breakfast, I made my way up to the bridge once the Seatruck Precision was clear of the navigation channel.  This was to be a smooth crossing with force 2 to 4 being the order of the day, dropping to force 1 on occasion.

The journey out from Heysham and through the outer reaches of Morecambe Bay was relatively quiet but a steady number of Sandwich Tern and Common Scoter made an appearance.  Before too long, Manx Shearwater started crossing the bow in increasing numbers, and in fact as we got close to Warrenpoint I could not count them fast enough!

Before too long, the Isle of Man came into view and as ever I was hoping for some large dorsal fins off Chicken Rock but alas on this occasion it was not to be. However, with Man behind us and a decreasing sea state the sightings of birds and mammals picked up.  An active group of four feeding Common Dolphin were first seen off the port beam and these were followed by several Harbour Porpoise.

Common Seal Adrian Shephard 02As was expected, the numerous auks and shearwaters then kept me on my toes until close of survey for the day, but as it turns out I called an end to the survey a little too early at the entrance to Carlingford Lough!  Had I not done so I would soon have added twenty Harbour Seal, more Harbour Porpoise, several Black Guillemot, Hooded Crow and a probable Otter to the survey list!

After a pleasant night stay in a nice room at the Lough and Quay, I was allowed to board the Clipper Point early and so spent an hour scanning Carlingford Lough for pre-survey birds, and I saw a good number of Grey Heron, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Redshank and Hooded Crow.  Survey started just after 09.00 with a good number of Black Guillemot in the Lough.  In the outer reaches of the Lough, the seals had hauled themselves up onto the rocks and sandbars, and I made a conservative count of 68 Harbour Seal.

As soon as we left the Lough the rafts and flocks of Manx Shearwater were encountered in steady numbers until the ship reached the Isle of Man after which numbers dropped off noticeably.

Sea conditions were good with wild force 1 to 2 being the dominant state for the crossing, but the starboard side glare that remained for much of the journey made some of the bird identification difficult, notably for the auks.

Rissos Dolphin Rick Morris 02The first roll of a tiny Harbour Porpoise was seen about an hour out of the Lough, followed soon after by a quick glimpse of Common Dolphin.  The highlight of the trip was within sight of Chicken Rock, when I noticed some dorsal fins break the surface.  I got the binoculars on the them and could see two or three tall, wide and very grey and scared dorsal fins - Risso's Dolphin!  It was a brief sighting but just about long enough to get the bridge crew onto them.

Half an hour later and on the port side I could clearly see some more large animals throwing their bodies out of the water and landing on their sides while also travelling fast.  They were also grey, scared and blunt headed - more Risso's Dolphin!  They travelled right past a very much more sedate Harbour Porpoise.

There were four more Harbour Porpoise sightings and also a Grey Seal spy-hopping near the windfarms.  Then, about an hour away from Heysham, a large dead fish floated by.  Half of its face/head was missing, and it was bobbing in the wake, but it could well have been a tuna.

Once again, our thanks to Seatruck and to Captains Kaspar and Tuuling and crews of the Precision and Clipper Point for welcoming MARINElife onboard.

Harbour Seal (Adrian Shepherd)
Risso's Dolphin (Rick Morris)