MARINElife Blog: P&O Ferries (Pride of Bruges) Hull to Zeebrugge (15 – 17 July 2017)

Stephen Dunstan and Bryony Dunstan; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Good visibility throughout, winds variable force 3-5

Marine Mammals
Unidentified whale 1 (casual sighting)
Unidientified dolphin or porpoise 2 (casual sighting)

Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 42
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 30
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 9
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 53
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 92
Common Gull Larus canus 14
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 12
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 130
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 1
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 18
Guillemot Uria aalge 4
Auk sp. 3

What turned out to be an exceptionally eventful survey for this route started innocuously enough on a pleasant Saturday afternoon in Hull.  We enjoyed a nice meal in the restaurant before being transferred to the bridge as the ship left the lock. Over the next couple of hours, we saw mostly gulls in the Humber, then a handful of seabirds including Gannet and a Fulmar before the light faded.

The following morning Stephen was on watch alone as Bryony was a bit seasick. The watch was again fairly uneventful until both crew on deck saw what they were convinced was the tail of a whale, with either two animals involved or the same animal showing its fluke twice.  Unfortunately, it was not seen by Stephen and whilst his assumption is that it was a Humpback (or two) this cannot be proved).

Stephen was still smarting a little about this when a large seabird headed past at the range of the edge of the recording box.  Expecting to see a Gannet he was gobsmacked to be looking at a Black-browed Albatross, presumably the bird summering at Sylt in Germany.  Grabbing his camera, he succeeded in getting some record shots.  As the boat was nearing Zeebrugge we were in Belgian waters, and it transpires this is likely to be the first accepted record of the species for the country!

Black-browed Albatross 5

Black-browed Albatross (© Stephen Dunstan)

After docking in the port, we headed into Bruges on the coach shuttle, enjoying a trip the Dali Museum and a city bus tour whilst SD also began to get news of our remarkable seabird sighting out on the internet.

Returning to the boat we surveyed until dusk.  Once the initial flurry of gulls and terns had subsided we saw a few Gannet and a single Common Scoter.

Common Scoter Adrian Shephard 03

Common Scoter (Adrian Shephard)

Early morning on Monday saw a repeat of the whale incident, with the crew spotting two fins but the animals were unfortunately not seen by the survey team.  We did however see several Kittiwake, and a flock of eight Common Scoter as we neared Spurn Point.
The crew of the Pride of Bruges and the dockside staff at both ends were excellent and we would like to thank them for their contribution to what in different ways was a very memorable survey of the route, both greatly frustrating and massively satisfying at the same time!