Adrian Shephard, Carol Farmer-Wright and John Arnott;
Researchers Surveyors and Guides for MARINElife
White-beaked Dolphin Lagenorhynchus albirostris 11
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 3
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 5
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 1
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
Common Gull Larus canus 2
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Great Black-back Gull Larus marinus 16
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 13
Gannet Morus bassanus 179
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 7
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 10
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 1
Comic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 100
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 19
European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 71
Razorbill Alca torda 1
Unidentified Auk sp. 3
Gadwall Anas strepera 1
Turnstone Arenaria interpres 1
We all arrived at the LD Lines Newhaven terminal by 9am ready for the forthcoming MARINElife Observation Day in association with Sussex Wildlife Trust. Weather conditions were ideal, with clear skies and light winds from the west. We checked in and made our way about the Cote D'Albatre for the voyage to Dieppe.
We headed up onto the topmost deck and watched the ship make its way out of the harbour and then headed into our exclusive area just behind the port side of the bridge. Whilst bright and sunny, the wind was cold and we all appreciated our layers of warm clothes.
With eyes focused on the calm seas, we started to pick up seabirds. Herring Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Black-throated Diver and Sandwich Tern were amongst some of the first birds encountered with 21 different species encountered throughout the return crossing.
A fleeting glimpse of an animals body rolling near the ship indicated a likely Harbour Porpoise and this was followed a little later by another.
Then, around an hour and 20 minutes after departing and still within sight of land, a splash ahead of the ship alerted John to the presence of some further marine mammals. All 42 pairs of eyes re-focused on the area 1000 meters ahead of the ship and we were rewarded with prominent dark dolphin dorsal fins as 3 animals surged through the water. As we watched, looking for the key features which would help confirm the identify of this species, we could just make out a flash of white along the side of the body.
A further shout then went out as another, slightly larger group was picked up a little further away and in this group one of the animals was breaching coming down on its back and showing us its white underside. Piecing the features together: prominent dorsal fin, dark back, white underside and white along the body - it could only be White-beaked Dolphin, a total of 9 animals and a first MARINElife encounter for this species on this ferry route!
Everyone was highly excited by the encounter, especially those that really had not expected to encounter dolphins during the crossing. We discussed the identification features for this species and our belief that this species, which is threatened by climate change, is moving along the south coast from the area we study it extensively in Lyme Bay through to the southern parts of the North Sea. This sighting helps MARINElife add a further piece to the jigsaw about the species movement.
A further dolphin was encountered fleetingly around 30 minutes later and this was followed over the next hour by a further 4 Harbour Porpoise encounters including 2 which were very close to the ship, affording good views. Seabird sightings also continued with a fairly constant stream of Gannet, a number of which were seen plunge diving and Guillemot plus a distant view of a piratical Great Skua.
A very distant group of around 100 feeding birds close to the seas surface were confirmed as either Common or Arctic ("Comic") Tern and observing through a scope, Graeme from Sussex Wildlife Trust was able to spot a Little Gull amongst group.
As we neared Dieppe, a close group of dorsal fins appeared. The falcate fins and steel grey bodies confirmed them as Bottlenose Dolphin, our third cetacean species for the trip! The small group of 3 animals moved slowly down the side of the ship around 500 meters out.
A distant Red-throated Diver, a Shag and a couple of Cormorant finished off the first half of the trip and as we docked, we discussed the great sightings on the 4 hour crossing.
We left the ship in beautiful sunshine for the short walk into town, where several people enjoyed a coffee and cake in the cafes of this pretty little town.
On re-boarding the ship, we headed up to the Starboard side of the ship to commence the return trip. The wind had picked up and the sea state now showed the occasional whitecap, making the observation of marine mammals slightly more difficult. The wind did seem to suit the seabirds, with a number of Gannet and Fulmar making use of the air currents and riding the updraft off the waves.
We braved the colder conditions with only the occasional departure for a warming coffee but the only cetacean encounter was a very distant small group of dolphins towards the end of the crossing.
As darkness fell, we headed down to warm up with a warm drink before docking, saying our goodbyes and heading home.
A massive thank you to the participants, whose enthusiasm and dedicated observation made this an even more pleasurable trip for the MARINElife Guides and Researchers.
Also, a big thank you to all the LD Lines port staff together with the crew of the Cote D'Albatre for allowing us to run this MARINElife Observation Day.
Adrian Shephard, Carol Farmer-Wright and John Arnott, MARINElife Research Surveyors & Guides
Carol Farmer-Wright and Emma Howe-Andrews, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Overcast with rain southbound and dry on the return leg. Winds SSW force 4 -7
Summary of sightings:
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 1
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 6
Gannet Morus bassanus 92
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 10
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 15
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 5
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 5
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 20
Undidentified Auk sp. 1
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1
Feral Pigeon Columba livia 1
We arrived at Newhaven and checked in ready for an 11 a.m. departure, boarded the ship and headed to the bridge to begin our survey. On this occasion we were privileged in being able to watch Captain Conquet and his officers turning the ship 180 degrees in the river before heading out into the English Channel. This manoeuvre is done with only a couple of metres to spare and testemony to the expertise of these seamen.
Gannet (Photo: Carol Farmer-Wright)
Rain set in half an hour into our survey and made sightings more difficult. However, just as the rain started we had a very brief glimpse of a solitary dolphin, frustratingly too brief to identify. From that point on we encountered Gannet, Guillemot and a solitary Fulmar. Gannet take six years to reach maturity and most of the birds seen were adult with the occasional 5 year old bird making an appearance.
Lack of daylight limited the survey on the return leg to two and a half hours, although fortunately by then the rain had stopped. The wind had also moderated on the French side making observation easier. This gave us a better opportunity to see the Guillemots, some males still watching over last year's young, the latter now being the same size as their parent. Gannet then became the predominant bird. At one point we were fortunate to see a small group of Little Gull rushing to leave the water as we approached them.
Little Gull (Photo: David Palmar)
With dusk falling rapidly we thanked Captain Conquet, his officers and crew for their hospitality and left the bridge to compile our sightings.