MARINElife Survey Report: DFDS Seaways Côte d'Albâtre Newhaven-Dieppe 17 May 2014

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

Seabirds:

Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 2
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

Terrestrial Birds:
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 Porpoise Peter Howlett 01a
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 Rick Morris 07a
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.

Sunset Elaine Brown
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!