Emma Howe-Andrews and Alexandra Bulgakova, Research Surveyors
Weather: Visibility: Excellent, dry and sunny with scattered clouds; Sea State:2-4; Swell: 0; Wind: Force 2-6 SSE-S-WSW
Summary of Sightings
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 14
Eider Somateria mollissima 5
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 221
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 18
Shag Phalacrocarax aristotelis 2
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 32
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 10
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 9
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 21
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 19
Guillemot Uria aalge 260
Razorbill Alca torda 8
Larus sp. 102
Passerine sp. 4
On a beautiful autumnal day, we were excited to arrive at the
Stena Line Birkenhead passenger terminal for our survey across the
Irish Sea on a dry and sunny Saturday morning. The weather was
forecast to be good for our journey, and we could not wait to take
the bus to the MV Stena Lagan that sat majestically on the River
Mersey ready to get underway.
Whilst riding the bus to the ship we noticed that the River Mersey was very high and close to reaching the top of the banks, and we wondered whether the recent heavy rains might have had an effect as there seemed to be a fast current. We hoped the Irish Sea would not be as turbulent!
On boarding the ship, we were greeted with a warm and welcoming smile from Jade on the guest services desk who was very friendly and helpful and organised for us to have access to the bridge before departure. As she escorted us to the bridge, Jade cheerfully chatted to us about the work of MARINElife and wished us well on our survey as she introduced us to Captain Gadomski, who made us feel very welcome as we settled into our workstation on the starboard side. Always a privilege to see the crew at work - true professionals.
The signal was given for the ship to depart her berth and she was skilfully manoeuvred away from the dock and towards the mouth of the River Mersey, passing a cruise ship that was moored in front of the Liver Building. We entered Liverpool Bay in a sea state 2, 4.2 knot south-westerly winds, no swell and excellent visibility in dry and sunny conditions. As the ship left Liverpool behind and sailed further into the Irish Sea, we recorded Black-headed Gull, rafting Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and Guillemot. Further into the survey, the wind increased and changed direction and started blowing from the west, which brought an increased sea state that fluctuated between 3-4 which created quite a few whitecaps and made looking for cetaceans tricky.
Approaching the Isle of Man we were hopeful of a cetacean as recent sightings had been excellent, and the Officer of the Watch had told us that he had seen quite a few dolphins in the area over the past few weeks. With Chicken Rock in our sights and the MV Stena Mersey passing us on to port we scoured the sea for cetaceans, but due to the poor sea state we left the island behind, with any cetaceans that might have been hiding between the waves.
Moving closer to the Irish coast, we were treated to a spectacular full rainbow that stayed with us as we spotted a large group of birds that included circling and diving Gannet, feeding Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Kittiwake. We thought this might bring our first cetacean sighting, but despite our best effort no animals were observed. However, it was a breath-taking sight to see so many birds hunting cooperatively together.
Our only cetacean sighting was recorded in Belfast Lough with a solitary adult Harbour Porpoise 378 metres ahead of the ship. It was swimming quickly away and surfaced twice before disappearing into the deep. We also had a large Grey Seal bottling at the surface before the ship berthed on the River Lagan as we completed our effort.
Despite the challenging sea conditions, it was a fantastic survey which enabled us to record vital data and contribute towards marine conservation whilst meeting some wonderful people who made us feel very welcome. Huge thanks go to Captain Krzysztof Gadomski, his crew and the staff of Stena Lagan for their kind hospitality, and to Stena Line for their continuing support.
Emma Howe-Andrews and Alexandra Bulgakova, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Great Black-backed Gull Photo: Peter Howlett
Grey Seal Photo: MARINElife