Sightings Archives: October 2015

MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 17th October 2015

Posted 10 November 2015

Emma Howe-Andrews and Steve McAusland, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions: Visibility: Good at 11-20km; scattered clouds with intermittent sunshine; Sea State: 3-4; Swell: 0-1;
Wind: NE-ESE force 4-6

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 9
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 10

Gannet Morus bassanus 117
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 153
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 4
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 100
Sanderling Calidris alba 60
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 14
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 22
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 16
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 23
Guillemot Uria aalge 238
Razorbill Alca torda 1

We arrived at the Birkenhead Stena Line terminal for our survey to Belfast, and after a speedy check in we were taken on board to be greeted by a very helpful Taylor on the guest services desk.  After dropping off our bags and enjoying a quick coffee we were escorted to the bridge and introduced to Captain Neil and his crew who made us feel very welcome.  With an early departure, the Stena Mersey left her berth and we began our survey.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 12Travelling into the mouth of the Mersey we passed the exposed sandbanks which had numerous Oystercatcher and Cormorant sitting at the water's edge, as well as some Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and Black-headed Gull feeding around a dredger.  We also observed a large group of Sanderling flying swiftly across the bow, such an enchanting little bird.

After passing the breakwater we moved further out into Liverpool Bay where we found a sea state of 3, good visibility, scattered sunshine and a few Gannet sweeping across the waves.  It was not long before the first cetacean sighting was made, a single Harbour Porpoise making a brief appearance ahead of the ship.

Whilst we were taking an effort reading, Captain Neil informed us that the ship would be taking the north route to Belfast, therefore keeping parts of the north-west coast of England visible. We had not expected to see Blackpool Tower and the mighty Big One rollercoaster in our binoculars - what a nice surprise!

As the ship continued its journey visibility improved to 20km and the eastside of the Isle of Man could be seen in the distance, and with this it brought the second mammal sighting of the day. Here, a group of six Common Dolphin charged through the waves and fed underneath a number of circling and diving Gannet 500 metres off the starboard side.

Common Dolphin Steve McAusland 04Reaching the Mull of Galloway, the southernmost point of Scotland and an area known for whales and dolphins, we were hopeful of another sighting and we were not to be disappointed!  We were enjoying views of the beautiful coastline now basking in the afternoon sun when three Common Dolphin surfaced 300 metres ahead of the starboard bow. We were able to observe the animals leaping several times as they travelled towards the headland, while a Great Skua and rafting Guillemot were seen after the dolphins had disappeared.

As we headed towards Belfast Lough a solitary Harbour Porpoise surfaced several times as it moved away from the port side, and just as we thought that was our final sighting of the day we saw lots of Gannets diving.  Amongst this frenzy were eight Harbour Porpoise creating lots of white water as they surfaced rapidly and chased their prey, which created an impressive sight!  With the light fading, we decided to end our survey; so we thanked the crew for their hospitality and left the bridge feeling very happy after a successful trip.

Emma Howe-Andrews and Steve McAusland, Research Surveyors for MARINElife