MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report ‘MS Oldenburg’ Ilfracombe-Lundy 8 September 2018

Jenny Ball; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)
Weather: Outward - overcast, wind SW force 5, sea state moderate, with some showers.  Return - brighter, wind SW force 5, sea state slight.

Summary of sightings:
Marine Mammals
Grey Seal 4

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

I was very much looking forward to this trip to Lundy, having spent 6 excellent days there with the MARINElife Lundy Adventure in early July.  This time I took my husband along, to show him what the fuss is all about!

The outward sailing on the MV Oldenburg was quite wet and slippery on deck, and the choppy seas meant that we didn't expect to see very much at all.  A few Gannet and Fulmar swept by, together with one or two gulls, and people were either enjoying the bracing conditions or taking refuge in the cosy lounge!  Many people on this trip seemed to be groups of climbers, being let loose on the cliffs again after the end of the nesting season, and we had some interesting conversations about their encounters with wildlife.

As we went ashore we said hello to Dean, the Head Ranger, and walking up the hill we noticed that one of the other rangers was standing guard by the Landing Beach: a new seal pup had been seen and could safely be watched from the path.  It wasn't being very active, so we carried on up the hill, hoping to spend more time with it on our return.

We climbed to the top of the Old Light, to get an overall view of the island, and then walked over to the more sheltered side of the island, along to the quarry timekeeper's hut for our lunch.  It was very peaceful out of the wind: we watched a Cormorant diving in the bay, a couple of Kestrel hunting amongst the bracken below us, and a seal near the rocks.  The occasional flash of white out to sea was of course Gannet, but most of the sea birds left their breeding grounds some weeks ago.

Seal Pup 01 Jenny Ball

Seal Pup (Jenny Ball)

We walked back to the Landing Beach, and this time the seal pup was on the move.  The incoming tide had encouraged it to crawl up the beach: it was trying to hide under an overhanging rock, but having learnt to roll over, decided to come out again.  Meanwhile, its mother was swimming nearby, watchful but quite relaxed, and the local dominant male was cruising up and down, keeping a close eye on both of them.  Dean told us that this seal is the" Beach Master" for this stretch of coastline, ready to challenge any other incoming males in defence of his females.  There was quite a big crowd of passengers enjoying this fascinating sight; the seals are quite used to seeing people around the Landing Beach, and weren't worried at all.

Gannet Rob Petley Jones 09

Gannet (Rob Petley-Jones)

The return trip was rather calmer than the morning's sailing, but again we didn't see more than a few Fulmar and Gannet, a couple of Manx Shearwater, one solitary Guillemot, a Great Black-Backed Gull and a few other gulls.  A couple who had travelled over to Lundy last Thursday told me about the dolphins they had seen on that trip, but no such luck this time.

We thanked the Captain, Jason, and his helpful crew for supporting MARINElife, and made our way back into Ilfracombe.

Jenny Ball; MARINElife Wildlife Officer