MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report ‘MS Oldenburg’ Ilfracombe-Lundy 4 August 2018

Wildlife Officer: Hazel Pittwood

Summary of sightings:

Common Dolphin 5
Unidentified dolphins 9 (seen from the Island)
Minke Whale (probable, seen by passenger/crew member)

Manx Shearwater
Herring Gull
Great black-backed Gull
Lesser black-backed Gull

After travelling down to Ilfracombe the evening before and being met with thick fog I was relieved to see the air had cleared on the morning of the sailing! With good visibility and a lovely, calm sea state 1 I was excited for my first time volunteering as a Wildlife Officer on this journey.

After introducing myself to the friendly crew I waited until the ship departed the dock and then headed out onto deck to talk with the passengers. Wearing a MARINElife high-vis jacket to be easily identifiable, I explained my role on the journey as a volunteer present to help spot and identify wildlife as an added element to this crossing.

Lundy west coast Hazel Pittwood 01
West coast of Lundy (Hazel Pittwood)

We were accompanied out of port by a flock of Herring Gull, consisting mainly of juveniles. The crew had reported seeing large numbers of Manx Shearwater over the past few days and sure enough it wasn't long before we started seeing these magnificent birds. Sightings of Gannet, Fulmar, Cormorant and Guillemot followed. We also had a fantastic view of an Ocean Sunfish as it passed close by the ship on the starboard side!

We then had our first cetacean sighting of the journey, I spotted fins breaking the surface in the middle distance on the port side and I called out to let passengers know and explained to them where to look to see these animals. As we kept watch it became clear they were Common Dolphin and their behaviour suggested they were feeding.

Passengers were thrilled to see the occasional solitary Puffin along the way and it was a delight to see numerous Kittiwake. As we came into dock a passenger shouted that they had seen a whale, a crew member also confirmed that they had seen the animal, which he believed was a Minke Whale (this is indeed the most likely, as the most common whale dwelling in shallow waters around the UK). Sadly I didn't see it!

Grey Seal Hazel Pittwood 01
Grey Seal in Landing Bay, Lundy (Hazel Pittwood)

The sight of at least six Grey Seals bobbing inquisitively around the island near the jetty provided great excitement as we left the ship. I sat and watched them on the shore as a huge male seal drifted lazily, allowing the tide to carry him to and fro. I walked up to the top of the island and sat in the long grass. As I ate my lunch I watched as a pod of dolphins moved across the sea in the distance.

Compass Jellyfish Hazel Pittwood 01
Compass Jellyfish (Hazel Pittwood)

Whilst waiting to board the ship I joined passengers in spotting jellyfish moving slowly in the shallows. On this return journey we were treated to more of the same in terms of seabird sightings, but no more cetaceans. Flocks of Manx Shearwater, a few hundred strong, were an impressive sight. Lots of passengers approached me to ask what they were, captivated by their graceful, gliding flight.

Thank you as always to the crew of the MS Oldenburg for their kind assistance.