MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Dublin 'Seatruck Power and Seatruck Progress' 14th-15th January 2016

Steve Morgan - Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Conditions westbound: northerly wind 35-40 knots, sea state 5, visibility fair to good.
Conditions eastbound: north-westerly wind 25-30 knots, sea state 4-6, visibility poor to good

Summary of sightings

Cetaceans and mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Atlantic Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2

Seabirds:
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 56
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 15
Great Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 36
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Black-headed Gull Croicephalus ridibundus 7
Common Gull Larus Canus 14
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 52
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 19
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 48
Common Guillemot Uria aalge 23
Razorbill Alca torda 2
Auk sp. 6
Gull sp. 34

Terrestrial birds during survey effort
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostreolagus 1

There had been severe gales earlier in the week but a forecast improvement in conditions augured well for spotting marine mammals and birds.  As the Seatruck Power left the sea lock in Liverpool there were several Turnstone on the shingle beside the river and various gulls wheeling around ahead of us. In addition to the usual Common Gull and Herring Gull there were a few Black-headed Gull and a single Great Black-backed Gull.  The tide was almost at its maximum height and so Crosby Sands, often busy with hundreds of Cormorant, was empty as was the bar off Marine Point at New Brighton.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 17Out at sea the wind quickly strengthened and a heavy swell developed, making it challenging to find anything between the waves.  I did briefly glimpse a small but distinctly black object which might well have been the stubby dorsal fin of a Harbour Porpoise but the sighting was too fleeting to be sure.

The crossing produced occasional Fulmar and Kittiwake but was mainly very quiet. However, with dusk not far away I did manage to find two Grey Seal, the first lounging about on the surface on its back and the second "bottling" (its head protruding above the water).

The return sailing the following morning on the Seatruck Progress found slightly better conditions, at least at first.  With bright sunshine and a less angry sea I was optimistic of finding Cetaceans.  As we sailed out into the Southern Irish Channel, not far out of Dublin, I duly spotted a pair of Harbour Porpoise.  The first just grazed the surface as it came up but the second, a moment later, produced a more satisfactory roll, revealing its characteristic blunt triangular dorsal fin.  The Channel is just a little deeper than the waters further out towards the Welsh side and seems to be a bit of a hotspot. Certainly it seldom lets me down!

Fulmar Rob Petley-Jones 02Unfortunately the conditions deteriorated steadily as we sailed further across the Irish Sea.  Close to Dublin with the wind in the north-west we had been sheltered by the land mass of Ireland but further out we were fully exposed to the blast, and once more it became difficult to see between the waves. Twice I glimpsed suspicious black objects, which might have been more Harbour Porpoise or might have been flotsam. Very frustrating!

As on the outward leg Fulmar and Kittiwake were the main avian fare, though late in the afternoon I did find a Red-throated Diver and a few Guillemot.  

By 16.40 it was too gloomy to see much and I called an end to the survey.  The swell was still a problem in the Mersey estuary and the captain called for a tug to help us into the sea lock, which was quite an interesting operation to observe.

My thanks go once again to the captains and crews of both the Power and the Progress for their warm welcomes and unstinting help and support, not to mention the hearty breakfasts on board!

Steve Morgan - Research Surveyor for MARINElife