MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report: ‘MS Oldenburg’ Bideford-Lundy 22 June 2019

MARINElife/Lundy WLO Kevin Waterfall

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals:
Common Dolphin 25+
Harbour Porpoise 1
Grey Seal 6

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

We left Bideford quayside and sailed down the River Torridge with a good clear commentary over the public address explaining the role of the various buildings on the banks and the history of the region, as well as pointing out gulls, herons, Shelduck and Curlews that were on the mud flats and river edges. My role on board was also announced which helped to make people feel confident in approaching me to ask for advice and information.

Both the outward crossing and my return one on 25th were in good sunshine and a calm sea, for the return it was mirror calm and never above sea state 1. I was very optimistic of some cetacean sightings and whilst there were only two dolphins seen on the way out there were lots of Common Dolphins on the return crossing.

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 36
Common Dolphin (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

Heading out into the channel, I made my way around the decks to introduce myself to the passengers, asking what their interests were and explaining that MARINElife are now working in partnership with the Landmark Trust who manage Lundy Island, to enhance the crossing by giving guidance and help. It was also helpful as a way to find those people who were keen birders or were watching out for cetaceans.

We had a steady stream of  gulls, auks and Manx Shearwater as we headed for the North Light of Lundy and by the time it was in sight we had witnessed lots of Manx skimming across the surface and seen rafts of Razorbills and Guillemots. We started to pick up Shags as we approached the island and the captain took the Oldenburg along the East Coast such that we could see the gull colonies and some of the Grey Seals that lounge about on the rocks or spy hop from the waters close to Gannet Rock.

Reaching Lundy, quite a few people made their way up to Jenny's cove to watch the Puffins, either on their own, or in one of the guided walks lead by the Island wardens. It's good to see that the two colonies of Puffins have now expanded and a third one is active just north of The Battery. Seabirds are doing well on Lundy and many have increased in the last few years since rats were eradicated.

Puffin Peter Howlett 14
Puffin (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

The return back to Ilfracombe on 25th was a steady flow of sightings of auks, especially families of Guillemot and Razor Bills actively fishing, plus Common Scoter and Gannet and a sighting of a Harbour Porpoise as we left Lundy. The best was yet to come with over 25 Common Dolphins being seen around mid-channel. They were in groups of three to five at a time breaching and leaping out of the water to the great delight of the passengers, especially the primary school party on board. According to the ship's officers this has been common on the return crossings over the last month with up to 50 dolphins at a time.

As ever, huge thanks to the officers and crew of the 'Oldenburg' for their help and assistance.