MARINElife Blog: P&O Ferries (Pride of York) Hull to Zeebrugge 23 – 25 June 2018

Maggie Gamble and Mary Wood, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outward - First leg (23rd June, PM) - sea state 2; very good visibility, hazy later.
Second leg (24th June, AM) - sea state 2; very good visibility with glare at times.
Return - First leg (24th June, PM) - sea state 1-2; excellent visibility with glare at times.
Second leg (25th June, AM) - sea state 1-2; excellent visibility.
Wind mainly north-westerly 2-3 throughout.

Marine Mammals:
Grey seal Halichoerus grypus 5
Harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5

Seabirds:
Auk spp 2
Black-headed gull Chroicocephalus ridibundulus 9
Comic tern Sterna hirundo / Sterna paradisaea 1
Common tern Sterna hirundo 1
Cormorant Phalacrocoracidae 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 15
Gannet Morus bassanus 26
Great skua Stercorarius skua 1
Greater black-backed gull Larus marinus 4
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 30
Larus spp 161
Lesser black-backed gull Larus fuscus 62
Sandwich tern Thalasseus sandvicensis 2
Sooty shearwater Ardenna grisea 1

Terrestrial Birds
Shelduck Tadorna 1
Curlew Numenius 1

After marveling at the maneuvering of the Pride of York through the narrow lock at the Port of Hull, we enjoyed supper in The Kitchen restaurant, where excellent meals were provided throughout the survey courtesy of P&O.  After supper we were escorted up to the bridge and introduced to Captain Mark Rolie and his crew, who welcomed us and showed great hospitality and interest in our work throughout the trip.

We soon observed a 'spy-hopping' Grey Seal observing us, a Guillemot and an adult Gannet. Later Maggie spotted a distant group of two adult and two juvenile circling Gannet, suggesting the possibility of cetaceans below as they all targeted a shoal of fish. As predicted we soon had a brief sighting of three fins of Harbour Porpoise.  The fish theme continued later with the development of a striking sheet of a mackerel sky.

Grey Seal Rick Morris 11

Grey Seal (Rick Morris)

We noted the attractive markings of juvenile Black-headed Gull, and I familiarized myself with the ship's instruments from which to read the relevant survey data.

Next morning, at 4:30am we were back up on the bridge for a three-hour survey, welcomed by a calm sea and glorious sunshine.  Birds were occasional, Lesser Black-backed Gull the most frequent species, with Black-headed Gull, Gannet in varying plumages, Fulmar and Kittiwake.  One Kittiwake took a break on the bow for about twenty minutes, its black feet distinct against the pale paint.  A couple of times, cuttlefish bones drifted past on the water surface.

After docking in Zeebrugge, and with thanks to P&O, we were able to join the shuttle bus into Bruges. We had a great time exploring the fine and often exquisite buildings, both on foot and by boat, to the background rhythm of cobble-trotting horses as others explored by carriage.  At the end of one stretch of canal we came across an amazing sculpture of a breaching whale, known as 'Skyscraper'. Made entirely of oceanic waste plastic gathered in Hawaii, a remarkable and sobering work by StudioKCA.

Skyscraper StudioKCA Maggie Gamble

Skyscraper by StudioKCA (Maggie Gamble)

Back on the bridge in the early evening, occasional sightings of Fulmar and Gannet were joined by a distant Great Skua and a Sooty Shearwater.  Scanning around, I noticed in the distance, small strangely-angled black shapes which, as we got closer, turned out to be the fins of two Harbour Porpoise in mid feeding circles.  As dusk drew on, we were all awed by the magnificent salmon and red underlit clouds as the sun set.

Back on the bridge at 4:30am, we had a sunny approach to the Humber Estuary, Spurn Head looking very fine with its lighthouse and sand dunes.  We had close views of a Curlew and a lone Shelduck. In the distance we spotted two Sandwich Tern, one sideways-eyeing the water but not diving.  A sunlit Gannet in full breeding plumage gave us spectacular views as it soared for a while, just above the bridge.

We thanked the captain and crew very much for facilitating our survey and disembarked back at Hull.

Maggie Gamble and Mary Wood, Research Surveyors for MARINElife