MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Mersey' 14th October 2017

Emma Howe-Andrews and Karen Francis, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Visibility 6-20km scattered clouds/sunshine; Sea State 1-6; Swell 0-2; Wind 3-7 S-SSW-W

Summary of Sightings

Marine mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8
Gannet Morus bassanus 19
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 6
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 22
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 3
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 115
Eider Somateria mollissima 9
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 20
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 18
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 37
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 60
Guillemot Uria aalge 34
Razorbill Alca torda 3
Duck sp. 10
Gull sp. 70

Despite Hurricane Ophelia expected to reach the UK shores over the next few days, and the unsettled weather predicted for our Irish Sea crossing, we arrived at Birkenhead Stena Line Terminal feeling excited about what we might see on our survey to Belfast.

Mersey FerryAfter a quick and efficient check-in, we were on our way to the MV Stena Mersey and on board with the other passengers within minutes. We were greeted by Taylor at guest services, who is always so friendly and helpful, and after allocating us our cabins she organised for our access to the bridge. Andrew kindly escorted us to the bridge, cheerfully chatting to us as we went, and once on the bridge showed us to our workstation on the starboard side.

The bridge crew are always so friendly and accommodating, and they made us feel very welcome as they prepared the ship for departure. As we readied ourselves we saw one of the Mersey ferries docking just in front of our berth, and we admired its brightly coloured paintwork - it was almost like a floating piece of art!

The weather appeared to be on our side as we left the berth in dry conditions with scattered clouds, some sunshine and good visibility. We started our survey as soon as we departed and immediately we were met with Black Headed Gull, Herring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull that were feeding in the wake from the ship ahead of us.

We left the Mersey and entered Liverpool Bay in a sea state 2, no swell and SW winds that were blowing at 10.8 knots - a promising start. After speaking to Second Officer Chris, we were taking the south route around the Isle of Man and with all the recent cetacean sightings that had been recorded on this route we couldn't wait to get there.

Kittiwake Peter Howlett 09As we travelled further into the Irish Sea the sea state gradually increased from 2 to 6 and with this came a 2-3 metre swell and south-westerly winds that were blowing at nearly 30 knots. Despite the deteriorating weather there was a steady stream of birds, which included Kittiwake, large groups of Common Scoter, Shag, Manx Shearwater and Gannet. There was also the occasion Barrel Jellyfish.

Unfortunately, by the time we had reached the Isle of Man visibility had been significantly reduced by mist, and we could barely see the Calf of Man as we passed it on the starboard side, so no cetaceans were sighted. We were disappointed, but we still had a couple of hours left before we reached Belfast, and we remained hopeful.

After leaving the Isle of Man behind the sea state improved to 3 and the wind speed and swell decreased providing a better opportunity to sight cetaceans, so anything was possible. We observed two Great Skua harassing a large group of gulls that were feeding on a fish ball and a Fulmar sweeping across the waves.

Despite our best efforts and improved conditions, we didn't see any cetaceans, but we did see a few rafting Eider, Guillemot, and a solitary Grey Seal milling at the surface in Belfast Lough.

Huge thanks go to Captains Giovanni Maresca and Paolo Fresa, their crew and the staff of Stena Mersey who made this a very enjoyable and memorable crossing with their kind hospitality, and to Stena Line for their continuing support

Emma Howe-Andrews and Karen Francis, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Mersey Ferry Photo: Emma Howe-Andrews
Kittiwake Photo: Peter Howlett