Steve Morgan and Elaine Brown, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather outbound: wind SW, sea state mainly 2, some mist. Weather inbound: wind SW, sea state mainly 2, hazy sunshine.
Summary of sightings
Mammals and cetaceans:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 25
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus
Northern Gannet Morus bassanus 60
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 23
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 25
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 11
Common Guillemot Uria aalge 19
Unidentified Auk Sp. 5
Unidentified Gull Sp. 16
Unidentified Diver Sp. 1
Feral Pigeon Columba livia 4
We boarded the Côte d'Albâtre in glorious spring weather and set ourselves up on the bridge as we reversed out of Newhaven Harbour. The sea was mirror calm and, though an eerie mist hung over the sea, conditions were excellent for cetacean spotting.
Harbour Porpoie (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)
The outward leg produced a series of great sightings of Harbour Porpoise, the animals clearly visible (and identifiable) even at sometimes more than 1000 metres range. Twice we saw a mother and calf together, each time the youngster keeping tight to its mother's flank and surfacing together in perfect synchronisation. By the time we approached Dieppe we had accounted for 18 of these small cetaceans.
Gannet were present throughout the crossing, most of them adults, resplendent in their crisp black and white uniform. There were a few Guillemot about, small numbers of Kittiwake, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull and a lone Fulmar. A diver, probably Red-throated, hurried across the surface at distance but it was too far away to identify conclusively.
Gannet (Archive photo: Rick Morris)
We arrived at Dieppe in beautiful sunshine, the mist having burnt away, with a single Cormorant watching us manoeuvre into our berth.
Conditions continued in the same fantastic vein on the return leg. The sun shone and barely a ripple troubled the surface of the sea. By evening, the sea state had moderated to 1 and we could gaze out across a broad flat sea in search of a tell-tale splash or the momentary glimpse of a dorsal fin. It took us a while but eventually we did find more Harbour Porpoise - including yet another mother and calf duo. On one occasion we had three separate sightings going on simultaneously. I even spotted a Porpoise "unofficially" while having dinner in the canteen! We added seven more to our tally bringing the total to 25. Not bad considering that a number of people we spoke to seemed to think that the Eastern English Channel was devoid of cetaceans!
As on the outward leg, Gannet were almost continuously visible. Other species seemed rather scarce, though we did find a group of 11 Lesser Black-backed Gull sitting on the water, a sight which had me scouring every inch of the surrounding water looking for cetacean activity.
Channel sunset (Elaine Brown)
By nine o'clock the light was fading rapidly and so we concluded the survey while it was still bright enough to record our position. We extend our thanks to the captain and crew of the Côte d'Albâtre, who not only offered us every assistance but even twice managed to spot Porpoises themselves!
Carol Farmer-Wright, MARINElife Research Surveyor & Guide
Winds SW 7-9 Rain clearing throughout the day
Summary of sightings:
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 40
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 12
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 6
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 20
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 91
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 8
Shearwater sp. 1
Swift Apus apus 6
We all arrived at the DFDS Seaways Newhaven terminal by 9am ready for the forthcoming MARINElife Observation Day. Weather conditions were grey and blustery with rain. Despite this we were all looking forward to the day ahead. We checked in and made our way aboard the Côte d'Albâtre 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 for the southbound journey.
Great Black-backed Gull (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)
Our initial sightings were those of Herring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull that like to frequent the River Ouse and take advantage of ships stirring up the alluvial deposits in the harbour. Shortly after leaving the outer breakwater a group of 40 or more Common Scoter was seen travelling westwards.
Further out into the Channel we started to encounter the pelagic specialists. Gannet and Fulmar were riding the air currents above the waves with consummate ease. Small groups of Kittiwake were also showing off their flying prowess, the black tips of their wings showing clearly against the sea.
A small group of Swift was spotted heading north towards the Sussex coast and a shearwater was also seen, the distance from the ship making positive identification difficult.
Half an hour before docking in Dieppe we saw an indication of feeding activity. Fifty to eighty Gannet were circling, diving and sitting on a specific area of water. Despite looking carefully at the area we were unable to see any dolphins.
We left the ship in beautiful sunshine and some of the group took the short walk into town to enjoy a coffee and cake in the cafes of this pretty little town and patisserie were purchased for the return crossing.
On re-boarding the ship, we headed up to the starboard side of the vessel to commence the return trip. The wind had picked up making the potential observation of marine mammals more difficult. Seabirds were still evident and a few Cormorant were visible as we left Dieppe harbour. Gannet, Fulmar and a single Great Skua were seen before conditions changed sufficiently for us to retire from the upper decks and continue casual observations from the ships comfortable seating area.
Great Skua (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)
A massive thank you to the participants, whose enthusiasm and dedicated observation made this a very pleasurable trip for me.
Also, a big thank you to Captain Conquet, the officers and crew of the Côte d'Albâtre for their hospitality enabling us to run this MARINElife Observation day.