Sightings Archives: January 2012

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 28 - 29 January 2012

Posted 03 February 2012

Duncan Fyfe Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: 0-2

Cetacea / Sea Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocena phocena 15
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 5
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 4
Common Seal Phoca vitulina 1
Unidentified Seal Sp 1 


Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 6
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 2
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 48
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 12
Common Gull Larus canus 97
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 13
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 27
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 45
Razorbill Alca torda 6
Unidentified auk sp 81
Unidentified gull sp 123

Leaving home early on the Saturday morning was a frantic but pleasant journey over the snow covered Pennines. Stena Line were very hospitable and made me feel welcome straight away, after meeting the captain, I settled down to commence the survey.

The crossing couldn't have been better. Sea State barely rose above a force 2 and was mirror calm for much of the crossing. Visibility was reasonably good despite the cloud cover and this boded well for ideal spotting conditions. It wasn't long before I spotted the first seal of the trip - a Common Seal just in the outer estuary.

Grey Seal The outer reaches of the estuary and into the outer reaches of Morecambe Bay was a good spot for Cormorants and Common Gulls a plenty. Then as we came within sight of the south Cumbrian Coast 2 Common Scoter were seen heading south and also a Grey Seal swam out of the way of the ship at a leisurely pace. Conditions remained calm so I was hopefully of a few more sightings. I wasn't to be disappointed. Indeed the snow capped Cumbrian mountains and later Snae Fell provided the backdrop for the Harbour Porpoise sightings. The almost mirror calm conditions were ideal for spotting our smallest cetacean as they are often so easy to miss in sea conditions over force 2 or 3. 15 animals from 8 sightings in total including 1 juvenile.

Harbour Porpoise 2An adult grey seal caused momentary excitement within view of Port St. Mary on the Isle of Man. In the calm conditions its large head bobbing out of the water looked for while like a large dorsal fin and when its back broke the surface I was hoping for Risso's Dolphin that are sometimes seen here. However, it did turn out to be a large grey seal - still very nice to see.

The ship then took a course to the west of the Isle of Man and it was mid afternoon whilst views of the Calf of Man were rapidly disappearing behind the ship that I had the first of 2 dolphin sightings. Frustratingly I only got glimpses of 4 dorsal fins before they disappeared from view.  Less than 20 minutes later another 2 dorsal fins appeared heading towards the bow of the ship before disappearing from view.  The general 'jizz' of both sightings suggested possible Common Dolphin. These proved to be the last of the survey effort sightings.

Bird wise on this trip there was nothing rare or unusual to report but nevertheless it was still a pleasure to watch and record a myriad of guillemots in various states of plumage plus the occasional fulmar.

I ended the survey at 16:45 within sight of Belfast and typically 5 minutes later 2 harbour porpoise appeared in front of the bow. The number of times this has happened! The rest of the evening was spent on board watching the hundreds of Black-headed Gulls and Common Gulls in port hoping for something more unusual but it got tricky gull spotting in the dark so I resigned myself to watching an episode of Casualty before bed and the return journey!

Once again our thanks go to the staff and crew of the Stena Mersey who made this an enjoyable crossing.

Duncan Fyfe Research Surveyor for MARINElife