MARINElife blog: DFDS Seaways ‘Seven Sisters’ Newhaven-Dieppe 9 March 2019

Tom Forster and Fergus Cunningham, Research Surveyors for MARINElife(Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

Weather: Outbound: Dry and cloudy, moderate visibility, W-SW wind force 9 rising to 10 later, sea state 6 rising to 7, some glare. Return: Dry and cloudy, moderate visibility, W-SW wind force 10, sea state 7 rising 8 later, no glare.

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1

Gannet Morus bassanus 97
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 16
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 4
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 23
Guillemot Uria aalge 39
Razorbill Alca torda 19
Gull sp. 1
Auk sp. 7

Meeting up at Newhaven terminal to start the survey I had a slightly anxious drive around a long traffic diversion which seemed to take in most of Newhaven, fearing I would be delayed then a worried wait for Fergus to arrive as he encountered the same problems.  Happily, we both managed to get to the terminal on time in the end and after a coffee at the terminal café, we set out.

The survey proved a touch lively as the shipping forecast I had checked the day before turned out to have been a bit optimistic and the Force 8 occasionally 9 predicted turned out to be a little bit stronger.  Thankfully, this far east up the Channel and with this wind direction the seas were not too big and so I was still hopeful we might see some cetaceans despite the wind . Very soon after starting the survey my hope was vindicated as I briefly glimpsed a Harbour Porpoise pop up amidst the waves! As so often however this was a single surfacing and sadly by the time I had called it out to Fergus it was gone.

Great Skua Peter Howlett 10
Great Skua (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

Small numbers of Kittiwake and auks kept us entertained for much of the crossing showing off the wide variety of plumages at this time from smart full breeding plumage to those left-behind in their winter plumage. I would be fascinated to know if this is simply individual variation or depends on the population from which the birds originate (wondering if later breeders heading further north might be a bit delayed). This part of the Channel always seems good for Great Skua and sure enough we soon spotted one, and we saw three more by the time we reached the French coast.

Dieppe luckily seemed a bit sheltered from the gales out at sea and we strolled in to get some lunch at a creperie in the town centre. The security checks proved amusing on our return as a sniffer dog managed to get rather excited about some smelly cheese being brought back in someone's bag - clearly this was not what it was supposed to be looking for but time and again the dog wanted to sniff at the cheese, whatever its handler thought!

Gannet Peter Howlett 08
Gannet (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

After leaving the harbour we returned to the bridge to make use of the remaining daylight and soon picked up small numbers of Gannet moving around.  There seemed many more than on the outbound leg and soon we encountered a large raft of forty-eight birds widely scattered over the water.  It seemed highly likely they were resting after feeding and we suspect that had we passed this spot twenty or thirty minutes earlier we might well have been seeing porpoise or dolphins.

We stayed into the gathering dusk hopeful of a final porpoise to end the day but sadly, no matter how hard we scanned, we were not rewarded.

Our thanks to DFDS and the Captain and the crew of Seven Sisters for making us welcome and looking after us throughout the survey.