Sightings Archives: December 2019

MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries ‘Seatruck Precision’ and 'Clipper Performance' Heysham-Warrenpoint 5-6 December 2019

Posted 11 December 2019

Carol Farmer-Wright; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Outward - Cloudy; moderate to poor visibility; rain mid-day; wind SW force 6 increasing to force 10 then decreasing to force 8.
Return - Cloudy; good to moderate visibility; wind W to WNW force 5 to 6.

Summary of sightings
Cetaceans and Seals:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 29
Unidentified Dolphin sp.

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 2
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 28
Eider Somateria mollissima 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 25
Gannet Morus bassanus 5
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 5
Cormorant/Shag sp. Phalacrocoracodae 300
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 15
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 9
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 138
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 31
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 5
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 179
Guillemot Uria aalge 73
Razorbill Alca torda 30
Larus sp. 35
Auk sp. 20
Skua sp. Stercorariidae 1

Terrestrial Birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 2

Day 1

Two days after my Heysham to Dublin survey I was back at Heysham to conduct a survey to Warrenpoint.  A low-pressure weather front was due to pass through the Irish Sea during the day and we left Heysham in moderate seas.  I was able to record two cetacean sightings within the first hour of surveying, a Bottlenose Dolphin that swam in front of the vessel, and a second dolphin, its identity masked by the increasing swell, which was seen less than ten minutes later.

BND Peter Howlett 22

Bottlenose Dolphin (Peter Howlett)

Bird sightings were slow, the main birds recorded being Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull, a couple of groups of Common Scoter, and solitary Red-throated Diver and Mediterranean Gull. Further out to sea Kittiwake and Guillemot were seen.

We met the brunt of the weather front around midday, south of the Isle of Man, when poor visibility made me suspend the survey for almost an hour and a half allowing me to have a leisurely lunch.

After lunch a few Guillemot and Kittiwake and a solitary Gannet were seen.  As the light began to fade a Fulmar, Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull were recorded and a group of almost 30 Kittiwake were seen flying around a small area prospecting for food.  The light failed and I left the bridge to compile my sightings.

Day 2

The weather had calmed down somewhat by the time the Seatruck Performance arrived in Warrenpoint and we left the port and travelled along Carlingford Lough to the Irish Sea on schedule.  The lough-side is always busy with birds, and a mix of Cormorant, European Shag, and Common Gull, and land birds such as Oystercatcher and Hooded Crow, were seen.

Marine mammals can often be viewed at the entrance to the Lough and I was delighted to see a number of Grey Seal hauled out on the skerries near the lighthouse.  It was especially delightful as half of them were this year's pups, their off-white fur showing well against the rocky shoreline.  Also seen on these skerries were several hundred seabirds, mainly European Shag, Cormorant, Herring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull.

Shag Rob Petley-Jones 01

European Shag (Rob Petley-Jones)

Entering the Irish Sea, I saw a group of Harbour Porpoise, these initially swimming slowly from right to left about 200 metres from the ship.  Spotting us, they turned 180 degrees and swam rapidly away from the vessel.  At first, I thought there were only three animals, but their rapid retreat allowed me to see six animals in total.  This was to be the last mammal sighting for the day.

As we travelled further into the Irish Sea, Guillemot and Razorbill were seen frequently finally giving way to Kittiwake and Fulmar as we travelled further from land.

Eventually the light faded, and I closed the survey.

My thanks as always go to Seatruck, Captains Tonu Tuuling and Tim Broughton, the officers and crew of Seatruck's Precision and Performance and the shore staff that combined make surveying on this route such a pleasurable experience.

Carol Farmer-Wright, Research Surveyor for MARINElife