MARINElife Survey Report: 'MS Oldenburg' Ilfracombe-Lundy 14 September 2019

Mary Ferry, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Weather: Westbound: Sunny with glare, sea state 1, with very slight swell
Eastbound: Sunny with glare, sea state 1 inc. 2 half way across, with slight swell

Summary of sightings

Marine mammals:
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 32 in 2 groups

Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 4
Gannet  Morus bassanus 28
Guillemot Uria aalge 89
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 6
Cormorant Phalacrocorax aristotelis 7
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1

It was a mild, sunny day with over 240 visitors boarding MS Oldenburg, many of whom were staying on the island for a holiday of seven days or longer. The quay was very busy with a visiting fayre that had appeared during the week, restricting the queuing space and adding to the excitement.

The crossing was soon underway and within 15 minutes we had a display of over 20 Gannet feeding to port, close to shore, with very agitated water and plenty of dives to excite passengers sitting on that side of the ship. Thereafter sightings were less dramatic consisting of a few small groups of 1-3 Guillemot, a couple of potential Puffins before we came across two large rafts of Guillemot, one straight ahead and another 15 minutes later to starboard. As we approached Lundy, a Great Crested Grebe was sitting on the water preening itself. As we approached harbour, three Grey Seals came to inspect proceedings, one pup hauled itself onto the rocks for a better look, under the guidance of its mother, another pup was in the water close by.

Guillemot Rick Morris 02a
Guillemot (Library photo: Rick Morris)

Once on the island it was obvious that the beaches were off limits due to the pupping season and the information available suggested the seabird colonies were quiet, with most young fledged, so I headed for the centre of the island. I took cover from the heat and explored the farm and the abundance of Swallows and insects for them to feed on. It was a beautiful day, the sky criss-crossed with plane trails and no real clouds in sight.

On getting back to the harbour to board for the return trip, the same three seals entertained the passengers with their inquisitiveness, daring to come closer and then deciding better of it, repeating this sequence several times much to the amusement of the passengers.

There were many more bird sightings on the return trip with many Guillemots rafting, mixed with a few Razorbills. About halfway across a group of 20 Common Dolphin were sighted dead ahead, leaping to both port, starboard and dead ahead. They came close to the ship as we passed through them to port, some joined us to bowride, causing much excitement among the passengers. The dolphins headed off to the west.

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 062
Common Dolphin (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

After another 20 minutes, another pod of Common Dolphin were spotted to starboard a long way off but close enough to spot the leaping, some almost out of the water. This was a smaller pod, maybe of 12 or so individuals who were also heading to the wester. A pair of noisy Fulmar to port caught some attention but as we came nearer to Ilfracombe sightings quietened down once more.

My thanks go to the Captain and crew of the Oldenburg for allowing me on board to continue this survey. The additional sightings from the bridge were gratefully received.