MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 20th June 2015

Emma Howe-Andrews, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Wind variable 3 or less, sea state 0-3, visibility occ. poor at first good later

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 8
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 20
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 5

Seabirds
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 133
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 46
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 19
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Razorbill Alca torda 56
Guillemot Uria aalge 22
Gull sp. 2
Tern sp. 4

I arrived at the Stena Line terminal in Birkenhead and, after a speedy check in, I was on the bus being transported to the Stena Lagan for my journey to Belfast. After boarding I was greeted by Tony and Crystal at guest services who were both very welcoming and helpful and arranged for my access to the bridge.

As soon as I was on the bridge, preparations for departure were underway and I was introduced to Captain Stephen Millar and his crew, who all made me feel very welcome and were extremely accommodating. After settling into my workstation, the Stena Lagan departed its berth and travelled to the mouth of the Mersey and out into the Irish Sea. Unfortunately to begin I had to contend with visibility of less than one km due to fog and mist.

Minke Whale Tom Brereton 02aWith a sea state 2 and the fog clearing, visibility increased to 5 km and I was hopeful of cetacean and seabird sightings. Unfortunately it remained quiet until a few brief glimpses of Gannet, Herring Gull, Cormorant and Manx Shearwater. It wasn't until we reached the west side of the Isle of Man that conditions really improved and I saw my first marine mammal, a Grey Seal briefly logging on the surface before it dived and disappeared. It was now sunny with a sea state 1 and, when I spotted a number of Gannets diving, thought that this might bring my first cetacean sighting, sadly this wasn't the case. It didn't stay that way for long though!

Leaving the Isle of Man behind and with a continuing sea state 1 it brought the first cetacean sighting of many, a single Harbour Porpoise passing down the port side. After a further Grey Seal caught my eye, I was surprised to see a Minke Whale surface right next to it, and despite it being a brief sighting, it was an incredible view. Now with a sea state 0, it made for perfect cetacean watching with further sightings of Harbour Porpoise and a group of active Common Dolphin following a number of Gannets to a fish ball. Just amazing!

Just as I was enjoying the sea state 0 and excellent visibility, the Captain advised the bridge crew that we would be entering a fog bank within the next five minutes, and as expertly predicted the ship did exactly that. Within the dense fog, I witnessed my very first 'fogbow', a rare natural phenomenon off the starboard side of the bow. Like a rainbow, but without the spectrum of colour, it is caused by very small sized water droplets and the refraction of light, and is often called a 'white rainbow'. With all my time at sea, I had never seen anything like it, and it created a spectacular sight.

Common Dolphin Adrian Shephard 01After a brief spell in the fog bank, visibility improved and it brought groups of rafting Razorbill and Guillemot on our approach to Belfast, not before a final pair of Harbour Porpoise and a number of Barrel Jellyfish were observed.

During the entire voyage, the crew took immense interest in my work and were very friendly and engaging, which I really appreciated. Huge thanks go to Captain Stephen Millar, his crew and the staff of Stena Lagan who made this a very enjoyable and memorable crossing, and to Stena Line for their continuing support.

Emma Howe-Andrews, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)