Steve Morgan and Keith Morgan, Research Surveyor for
Weather: Wind Force 4-5 NNW; sea state mainly 4-5; sunshine and occasional showers.
Summary of Species Recorded
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutirostra 1
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1
Unidentified Diver sp 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 17
Gannet Morus bassanus 43
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 409
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 19
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 24
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 5
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 51
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 13
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Little Gull Sterna albifrons 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 14
Common Gull Larus canus 11
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 43
Unidentified gull sp. 208
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 1
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 45
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 9
Razorbill Alca torda 3
Unidentified auk 10
Feral Pigeon Columba livia 2
We boarded the Stena Mersey in good time and were invited up to
the bridge well before our departure time of 10.30. There was
rain in the air though this soon cleared as we manoeuvred out of
the Mersey into the Irish Sea where we were greeted by a brisk wind
and an unhelpful sea state of 4 rising to 5.
Despite the strong breeze, the usual Herring Gull, Common Gull and Black-headed Gull were in evidence as well as a few Great Black-backed Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull. We were also pleased to encounter two Little Gull which added spice to the standard fare.
Activity declined as we moved further out to sea and things remained quiet until we came in sight of the Isle of Man where our route took us to the north of the island through an area where previous surveys have usually found cetaceans. We were looking forward to meeting at least a few marine mammals but this area too was very quiet and as we headed northwards towards the Mull of Galloway, we began to wonder if we would have a "blank" recording survey.
However, just as we approached Galloway our luck changed. Firstly a lone Harbour Porpoise came barrelling along, surfacing briefly as it veered hard to starboard. Then came a group of three more Harbour Porpoise, all clearly visible swimming beneath the surface as they too sped close by our starboard side. What a marvellous sight! Normally one sees only glimpses of this species as it surfaces to breathe but thanks to a brilliant overhead sun and the close proximity of the animals, this time we were able to watch the animals in all their splendour, powering along like grey torpedoes beneath the waves.
The excitement had not finished. As we left Galloway behind and moved out towards the North Irish Channel, a slightly deeper area where dolphins are often seen, to my astonishment a long black back surfaced a mere two hundred metres ahead moving at some speed from starboard to port. Midway along was a high falcate dorsal fin which rose and fell in an arc as the animal arched its back. A moment later it surfaced a second time, and we could see it was far too large to be a smaller cetacean and its identity was immediately obvious - a Minke Whale! We tried desperately to re-locate it but it had obviously gone on a deeper dive and the two spectacular surfacings were to be our lot.
Shortly afterwards a pair of large uniformly grey and fast-swimming dolphins appeared, almost certainly Bottlenose Dolphin, surfacing only once before disappearing to starboard.
The survey had suddenly come to life right at the last minute, proving just how unpredictable the marine environment can be. Even the wind was easing and we cruised sedately into Belfast Lough in balmy sunshine over a gentle sea, where the usual suspects were there to meet us. A Harbour Seal was "bottling" near to the shoreline and two Black Guillemot and a fair number of Shag were resting on the water. A probable Red-throated Diver hurried across the surface in the distance, bringing the survey finally to a close.
Our thanks go to the captain, crew and staff aboard the Stena Mersey, who once again made our work such a pleasure.
Steve Morgan and Keith Morgan, Research Surveyor for MARINElife