MARINElife blog: Seatruck Ferries ‘Seatruck Precision’ and 'Clipper Performance' Heysham-Warrenpoint 6-7 February 2020

Carol Farmer-Wright and Walter Scott, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather Outbound: Dry; increasing cloud; wind S force 3 increasing SSW force 4; Sea state 2-3. Return: Dry; sunny; decreasing cloud; wind SSE force 7 increasing SE force 8; Sea state 4-6

Summary of Sightings

Marine Mammals:
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 3
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2

Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 4
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 20
Gannet Morus bassanus 3
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 4
Cormorant/Shag Phalacrocorax 106
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3
Common Gull Larus canus 8
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 102
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 14
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 9
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 93
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 96
Razorbill Alca torda 32
Diver sp. 3
Larus sp. 2
Auk sp. 31

Terrestrial Birds
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 4
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 4
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 1
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 1

This month would be an opportunity to survey with a new volunteer from Northern Ireland. Walter having made his way over from Warrenpoint on Wednesday and the surveying to start on Thursday morning. We arranged to meet at the Travelodge in Morecambe on Wednesday evening and awoke early in the morning to prepare for the survey.

Herring Gull Rob Petley-Jones 10The Seatruck Precision was not due to sail until 11am in the morning, so we spent some time walking to Eric Morecambe's statue on the seafront before heading to Heysham port. At the port our passes were issued, and we waited to drive onboard the ship. Once aboard we had a good cooked breakfast before being escorted to the bridge to begin surveying.

The sea was calm as we exited Heysham port and within an hour we recorded our first cetacean of the day, a Harbour Porpoise, swimming slowly ahead of us. The second sighting of Harbour Porpoise, much briefer, was recorded less than half an hour later.

Birds were few and far between, the majority being Herring Gull that flew to the ship and remained in the wake, hoping to collect food churned up there. Within an hour they were superseded by Guillemot, Razorbill and Kittiwake that are normally seen further from the shore. A pair of divers were recorded closer to the Isle of Man before the sunset brought an end to our westward survey.

After a good night's sleep in the Lough and Quay at Warrenpoint, I awoke and readied myself for the return sailing to Heysham. Walter kindly collected me from the hotel and drove me to Seatruck's terminal to effect the return section of the survey.
The wind was stronger than had been forecast and small wavelets were evident on the Lough as we headed towards the sea.

The birds recorded in the Lough included Red-breasted Merganser, Black-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Black Guillemot and Shelduck. Most, except the Black Guillemot, come to overwinter in the relatively sheltered waters.

GBB Gull Peter Howlett 11Whilst still in the Lough a Grey Seal surfaced just in front of the vessel. The tide was relatively high as we left Carlingford Lough resulting in the skerries protecting the Lough being virtually covered allowing only Cormorant and Shag to shelter on the rocks. A further seal was seen 90 minutes later, this accompanied by a Great Black-backed Gull that was keeping close to the animal looking for any morsels of fish the seal might discard.

Fulmar were more in evidence as they easily master the strong sea breezes and their tell-tale S-shaped flying pattern is easy to discern in such conditions.

There is a relatively deep channel, no more than 100 metres deep, halfway between Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. At the north-east extremity of this deeper water I encountered my first Common Dolphin, a solitary animal approaching the bow. Hoping for more sightings, I had to wait a further four hours before my final mammal sighting of the survey, a female Common Dolphin accompanied by a juvenile was seen on 30 or so miles west of Heysham.

I left the bridge, having thanked the officer of the watch, to collect my belongings and have an evening meal before leaving the ship and heading home.

Our thanks as always go to Seatruck, Captains Tuuling and Sinimae, the Officers and crew of Seatruck vessels Precision and Performance and the shore teams at Heysham and Warrenpoint that help to make these surveys so rewarding.

Carol Farmer-Wright and Walter Scott, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Herring Gull Photo: Rob Petley-Jones
Great Black-backed Gull Photo: Peter Howlett