MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 19th December 2015

Duncan Fyfe and Cathy Robinson surveyors for MARINElife
Conditions:  Overcast but with no rain; Sea state 5-7; Wind S

Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3
Dolphin sp 1

Gannet Morus bassanus 1
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 146
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 20
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 20
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 9
Common Gull Larus canus 4
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 41
Guillemot Uria aalge 20
Razorbill Alca torda 4
Unidentified gull sp. 1    
Unidentified auk sp 35
Unidentified grebe sp. 3



Grey seal Graham Ekins 03We were welcomed on board by the very hospitable crew and captain of the Stena Lagan and were able to head up to the bridge almost immediately, where we began the survey just after 10.30 when the ship was clear of berth and the inner shipping channel.  The weather forecast was not great but fortunately the sea state and wind remained a constant 5-7 on the Beaufort scale and we did not have any rain or glare to hinder our vision.  However, with lots of white caps around and up to a 2-3 metre swell it did make spotting of the smaller birds and cetaceans little more difficult than it sometimes can be.

As we headed out along the outer estuary we had good views of the Anthony Gormley statues on Crosby Beach but we could have easily overlooked them, thinking the beach was unusually busy until we got the binoculars on to them!  We made a mental note to have a closer look at a later date.  It was around about here that we saw our first and only Grey Seal of the survey with three on one of the small sand banks in the mid channel.  The seals can often be seen in this area.

The outer navigation channel had a lot of Cormorant to count, either sat on or near the marker buoys, flying across the bow, or sitting on the water.  Several Common Scoter were also in the vicinity.

Harbour Porpoise Graham Ekins 01The ship took the northerly route around the Isle of Mann where we had the cetacean sightings for this survey which were brief given the sea state.  There were four sightings in total and all within 500m of the ship.  The first was a fleeting glimpse of a Harbour Porpoise just off the bow, while an hour later three more Harbour Porpoise were seen ahead of the ship.  We got another couple of glimpses of these animals as they moved down the starboard side.  At first we thought they could have been Common Dolphin given their acrobatic behaviour but a closer look and a better view of the juvenile animal as it came out of the water ensured correct identification.

There were a small number of auks on the water and a few passing Kittiwake while three larger grebes flew past at one point, but we weren't able to get binoculars onto these quick enough to make a positive identification.   

The survey ended at 16.20 within sight of the beacon from the Mull of Galloway lighthouse which gave us time to total up the sightings and grab a bite to eat.  After berthing we opted to head into Belfast city centre, having been shown where the bus stop was - it is a little hidden so no wonder it gets missed!  The bus trip into town cost £2 and took about 10minutes and although we needed to get a taxi back to the terminal it was worth the trip because outside the splendid City Hall was an excellent Christmas market selling lots of interesting gifts and some very tempting cakes, cheeses, chocolates, pastries.......

We thank the captain and his crew for genuinely making us feel very welcome and look forward to our next survey on this route.

Duncan Fyfe and Cathy Robinson surveyors for MARINElife