Sightings Archives: February 2013

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 23 February 2013

Posted 26 February 2013

Duncan Fyfe and Jan Ozyer; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Westbound - Sea state 3 diminishing to 1

Sightings Summary:

(Marine) Mammals:

Bottlenose Dolphin  Tursiops truncatus 4
Harbour Porpoise  Phocoena phocoena 11
Dolphin Sp. 6
Common or Harbour Seal  Phoca vitulina 2
Seal sp 1
Otter  Lutra lutra 1


Eider Somateria mollissima 2
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 14
Red Throated Diver  Gavia stellata 4
Black Throated Diver  Gavia arctica 1 (presumed)
Great Northern Diver  Gavia immer 7
Diver Sp 3Fulmar   Fulmarus glacialis 2
Gannet  Morus bassanus 20
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 69
Shag  Phalacrocorax aristotelis 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 36
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus
21 Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 9
Larus Gull Sp 201
Black-headed Gull  Chroicocephalus ridibundus 2
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 4
Guillemot   Uria aalge 94
Razorbill    Alca torda 1
Auk Sp 330

Despite waking up and leaving home to another dusting of snow the weather for our trip couldn't have been better.  The wind and sea state barely rose above a sea state 3 and for the most part stayed at a steady sea state 1 - ideal spotting conditions.

The Stenna Mersey left Birkenhead at around 10.40am and made its way carefully down the Mersey and out into the outer reaches of the estuary.  The tide appeared to be in as the mud flats and sand banks were not visible so there were no wading birds to record for this trip.  However, the numbers of Cormorant that seemed to adorn many of the marker buoys made up for this.  As we left the last of the buoys behind we came across two flocks of Common Scoter in roughly the same place we saw them on our last trip together.

We were asked to conduct the survey from the Port side of the ship so we obliged - swopping our view of Cumbria for the Isle of Man.

Our first dolphin encounters were off the South West Cumbrian Coast.  The first of these was a fleeting one of approximately 3 individuals that gave the impression of a very dark back and broad dorsal but the sighting was brief so we weren't able to make a positive identification.  Approximately 40 minutes later we happened upon some Bottlenose Dolphin and heading in the opposite direction a few moments later a Harbour Porpoise and some further unidentified dolphin species.

The ship took a course around the north and east of the Isle of Man to take advantage of the currents.  As we rounded the north of the Island we came upon a particularly slack area of water and in no time at all saw another Harbour Porpoise.  As we got closer to Northern Ireland this seemed to be the pattern - with the boundaries of the slack patches of water and the very slightly more rippled areas yielding yet more sightings of Harbour Porpoise.

Harbour PorpoiseThe bird interest picked up when we were insight of Donaghadee on the mainland and in the outer reaches of Belfast Lough seven Great Northern Diver flew past.  Soon afterwards a huge mixed flock of approximately 500 sea duck could just be made off the starboard side but unfortunately the light was fading fast.  Given the distance, identification was not really possible although there seemed to be Eider and Common Scoter in the mix.  On the port side at the same time there was a large raft of approximately 200 auks.

This was when we came upon the real highlight of the trip and a MARINElife first for us both - a large male Otter!  He was approximately 1km off shore and we had a good view as he swam past before diving down out of sight.

The survey ended a short while later as the light faded and the dockside came into view but we had ended on a high and were quite pleased with the day's sightings.

We would like to extend our thanks to the crew of the Stenna Mersey who made us welcome and looked after us whilst we were on board and we look forward to the next with them.

Duncan Fyfe and Jan Ozyer; Research Surveyor for MARINElife