Liverpool-Belfast

Sightings Archives: July 2014

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 26th July 2014

Posted 02 August 2014

David McGrath and Emma Howe-Andrews, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather:    Wind N/NE Variable 14-21Knots; Swell 0-1; Visibility 6; Sea State 3-4

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 12    
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Atlantic Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 11

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8
Gannet Morus bassanus 196
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 789
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 31
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 5
Eider  Somateria mollissima 87
Common Scoter  Melanitta nigra 6
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 47
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 47
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 12
Common Gull   Larus canus 27
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 7
Unidentified gull sp. 70
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 32
'Commic' Tern  Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 7
Black Guillemot  Cepphus grylle 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 55
Razorbill  Alca torda 11
Unidentified auk 13

After a smooth transfer from the terminal at Birkenhead to our ship we were introduced to Captain Paulo and then shown to our comfortable cabins.  We were aboard in good time and were able to enjoy breakfast which included the largest chocolate brownie in the world!  As departure time neared we took up our positions on the bridge where we enjoyed views of the impressive Liverpool skyline and Ruby Princess cruise liner which dwarfed the Stena Mersey.

BND Carol Farmer-Wright 01The survey started once the ship was manoeuvred off its berth and once underway our survey sheets began to fill up with species of gull and Common Tern, the latter carrying fish to their nestlings on the nearby Seaforth Nature Reserve.  As usual on this route a number of Cormorant were recorded sat on the buoys marking the channel out of the river and into open water.

After about an hour one of the crew spotted a Bottlenose Dolphin very close dead ahead and a search by Emma revealed there was part of a pod of at least five, one of which being a juvenile.

At sea Gannet and Kittiwake were becalmed on the water in the light winds but the many Manx Shearwater seemed to be able to find the least breath of wind.  A Grey Seal loafed lazily in a raft of seaweed off the port bow, only diving when we got too close.  We also sailed through large blooms of Moon Jellyfish.

It was about an hour since our first cetacean sighting that we saw a quick succession of two, one then a pod of four Harbour Porpoise.  Approaching the half way point another pod of six Bottlenose Dolphin was seen 100 metres ahead of the bow.

Passing the Isle of Man the predicted cold front moved in and a hazy mist descended, reducing visibility for a while.  It was here that Guillemot and a few Razorbill started to be seen, though not in large numbers as many were still be at their nesting colonies.  Several Fulmar were also seen in this area.

Once past the Isle of Man another Bottlenose Dolphin appeared out of nowhere, charging straight at the ship and speeding down our port side.


Manx Shearwater were in abundance north of the Isle of Man with several large rafts hastily counted before they scattered out of our path.  The bulk of the 800 birds seen through the trip came from half a dozen such rafts.

Grey Seal Martin Gillingham 01aApproaching Belfast Lough our final cetacean sighting was made, a single Harbour Porpoise.  As the mouth of the loch begins to narrow the target species to find are the local Black Guillemot which didn't disappoint with four individuals being counted.  I always think these look rather moth-like in flight. The channel markers are a good place to look for Cormorant and their smaller relative the Shag of which we only saw one on this survey.

The ship slowed to a crawl as it approached its berth giving us fine views across into the RSPB's Belfast Loch reserve and keeping us busy with the comings and goings of the Common Tern nesting there.  A Harbour Seal kept close to the seawall well out of the way of the shipping, but right in the docks there were another eleven hauled out on the rocks.

At the end of our survey we thanked Captain Paulo for his hospitality and made our way to our cabins for the overnight return.

Our thanks go to Stena Line for their continued support for the surveys and to Captain Paulo and his extremely friendly and helpful crew on the Stena Mersey for making this a very enjoyable crossing.  We look forward to working with them again in the future.

David McGrath and Emma Howe-Andrews, Research Surveyor for MARINElife