MARINElife survey report: DFDS Seaways 'Clipper Point' 1-4 August 2014

Joe O'Hanlon and Mark Archer, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Day 1: Wind SSW 3, Good visibility, Sea state 3, Hazy sunshine
Day 2: Wind SE 2, Good visibility, Sea state 3, some cloud
Day 3: Wind S 3 swinging to SE 3, Good visibility with glare at times, sea state 3 - 4

Summary of sightings:
Marine Mammals:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 6
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 15
White-beaked Dolphin Lagenorhynchus albirostris 3
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 15
Dolphin sp. 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Common Seal Phoca vitulina 1

Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 55
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 13
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 68
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 6
Gannet Morus bassanus 638
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 8
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 4
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 2
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 247
Common Gull Larus canus 44
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 82
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 654
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 19
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 566
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 47
Common Tern  Sterna hirundo 23
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 4
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 71
Guillemot Uria aalge 440
Razorbill Alca torda 11
Duck sp. 3
Skua sp. 1
Large Gull sp. 2
Small Gull sp. 2

Terrestrial Birds:
Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria 2
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Dunlin Calidris alpina 1
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 6
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 2
Feral Pigeon Columba livia 2
Swift Apus apus 6
Small wader sp. 1

We arrived in Immingham at the DFDS terminal early on Friday morning where we were greeted, then driven through the port to the ship by the DFDS staff. The skies were clear, the winds light and the forecast calm so everything was looking good for the crossing to Cuxhaven.

We were dropped off at the access ramp to the ship where the lorries and trailers were being busily loaded, the First Mate immediately ushered us up the pedestrian walkway and arranged for us to be taken to our cabin's, as we made ourselves comfy the Steward attended our cabin to introduce himself and to check everything was acceptable.

The ship soon left its birth at which point we were taken to the Bridge by the Steward to meet Captain Andy Bradbury. The captain was very interested in our research and explained he had MARINElife researchers on his usual route across the Irish Sea and was particularly interested in our observations, he showed us around the bridge and made us both feel very welcome. He then impressively maneuvered the ship out of the dock's lock system and into the estuary under the direction of the port Pilot.

We set sail out into the North Sea to be greeted with our first marine mammal of the trip in the estuary mouth, a Grey Seal 'bottling'. As the ship entered open water, the sea was calm with bright skies and we were kept busy with Common Tern and Lesser Black-backed Gull moving through. There was a constant stream of birds passing the ship at which point we noted a feeding frenzy of Gannet and Kittiwake, further investigation of the frenzy and Joe spotted three White-beaked Dolphin. It was a rewarding start to our trip followed by sightings of Harbour Porpoise, Short-beaked Common Dolphin and then as the light faded a further two dolphins passed the ship but we did not manage to identify to species.

WB Dolphin Russ Neave 01aWhite-beaked Dolphin (Archive photo: Russ Neave)

The following morning started early with us on the bridge at 5am, as we started recording the sky was already bright and we immediately had good numbers of Guillemot and Lesser Black-backed Gull and a couple of small parties of Swift past the ship moving South. We approached Cuxhaven and the species encountered varied slightly with Sandwich Tern and Little Gull noted and the captain made us aware of a Harbour Porpoise.

We docked then disembarked for a couple of hours to have a quick walk round the port. It was a particularly warm afternoon with good numbers of butterflies on the wing and we managed to catch sight of a family of Black Restart and four Common Sandpiper.

We returned to the ship, had our evening meal and were back on the bridge at 7.30pm as we set sail, it was a productive couple of hours before dusk as we departed Cuxhaven with Common Seal, Harbour Porpoise, Bar-tailed Godwit and Shelduck along with various seabirds. As dusk descended, we made our way down to our births for a good night's sleep.

Gannet Joe OHanlon 01Gannet (Photo: Joe O'Hanlon)

We were up earlier for our final day of recording, getting to the bridge for 4.30am to be greeted with a calm sea, ideal for cetacean watching. As the day progressed, the cloud cleared to leave bright sunshine throughout our return trip. The day quickly passed despite recording for sixteen and a half hours on the bridge with constant counts of sea birds and cetaceans. We had a stream of Guillemot and Kittiwake with Gannet ever present. As we steamed into the afternoon we had a particularly active period with Manx Shearwater feeding, a pale phase Arctic Skua past the ship monitoring proceedings and a large feeding group of Gannet, Kittiwake and Lesser Black-backed Gull with at least twelve Short-beaked Common Dolphins actively feeding.

The following morning the ship 'docked' at 3.30am so we were both up early, went to the bridge to thank the Captain for the hospitality, said our goodbyes and made our ways home after a memorable trip.

We would like to thank our captain Andy Bradbury and his crew along with DFDS for their kind support.

Joe O'Hanlon, Mark Archer, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No 1110884)