MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Belfast 'Stena Lagan' 06th - 07th October 2018

Emma Howe-Andrews and Karen Francis, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Visibility excellent 20km; Dry; Scattered cloud and sunshine; Sea State: 3-7; Swell: 0-2; Wind Force: 4-7; Wind Direction: N-NNW

Summary of Sightings

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 4
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2

Seabirds
Gannet Morus bassanus 48
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 46
Eider Somateria mollissima 61
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 9
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 8
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 5
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 47
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 6
Guillemot Uria aalge 42
Razorbill Alca torda 40
Gull Laridae sp. 64
Auk sp. 1

Terrestrial birds
Finch sp. Fringillidae 1

We thought we might get lost on the way to the Stena Line Birkenhead passenger terminal following the spectacular giant footsteps of the visiting Liverpool and Wirral Giants to the city, so we decided to arrive in plenty of time to prepare for our survey. The forecast for our Irish Sea crossing was expected to be dry and a little 'lumpy' due to the continuing windy conditions, but that did not dampen our spirits. We were ready to start looking for cetaceans and recording seabirds and felt excited about what we might see!

After a quick and efficient check-in, we were on our way to the MV Stena Lagan and on board with the other passengers within minutes. We were given a very warm welcome by Dave and Brendan at guest services who are so friendly and helpful and are a credit to Stena Line for their professional and enthusiastic approach to ensuring every passenger is made to feel special. After allocating us our cabins we were escorted to the bridge where we were introduced to Captain Stephen Millar, who was very accommodating and friendly and took a genuine interest in our work. All the crew couldn't have made us feel more welcome and were so nice.

Grey Seal Rick Morris 06We settled into our workstation on the starboard side and the weather appeared to be on our side as we left the berth in dry conditions with scattered clouds, some sunshine and excellent visibility. We started our survey as soon as we departed and immediately we were met with Black-headed Gull, Common Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull soaring across the bow whilst we travelled the river.

We left the Mersey and entered Liverpool Bay in a sea state 3, no swell and northerly winds. We were taking the southern route and with the recent cetacean sightings around the Isle of Man we were very hopeful of an encounter or two!

As we travelled further into the Irish Sea the sea state gradually increased from 3 to 7 and with this brought a 2-3 metre swell, with winds that were blowing at nearly 31 knots and creating lots of white caps, sea spray and scattered foam! During this time there were steady sightings of Common Scoter, Kittiwake, and Gannet, with a Great Skua harassing a Herring Gull for its dinner. We also saw a Grey Seal bottling at the surface between waves.

With the Isle of Man clearly visible, the sea state made searching for cetaceans tricky and despite our best efforts no sightings were recorded. We felt a little disappointed but remained hopeful of sightings for the rest of the journey and within Belfast Lough, which is good Harbour Porpoise territory!

Great Skua Peter Howlett 12As we continued our voyage, the sea state fluctuated between 5-6 and the late afternoon sun was creating glare ahead of the ship, so reducing visibility. Despite all of this we recorded four Harbour Porpoise in Belfast Lough on the approach to our berth. The blow of one solitary animal was highlighted by the setting sun as it broke through the waves, while a group of three were seen feeding underneath several circling and diving Gannet. Brilliant!

In the last part of Belfast Lough, the bird numbers increased with rafting Eider, Guillemot, Razorbill and Shag, and we spotted another Grey Seal making its way down the side of the ship whilst giving us a quick glance. Even though the sea state was not favourable for our survey, the excellent company of the crew, the four Harbour Porpoise and an array of bird life made this a very memorable and enjoyable trip.

Huge thanks go to Captain Stephen Millar, his crew, and the staff of Stena Lagan for their kind hospitality, and to Stena Line for their continuing support.

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



Grey Seal Photo: Rick Morris
Great Skua Photo: Peter Howlett