MARINElife Survey Report: DFDS Seaways ‘Britannia Seaways’ Immingham-Cuxhaven 7-9 August 2015

Julia Benson and Carol Farmer-Wright; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather
Day 1: Cloudy, good visibility, sea state 2-3. Wind, force 3-5.
Day 2: Varying cloud cover with some glare, good visibility, sea state 2-4. Wind, force 4-5
Day 3: Some cloud cover, good visibility to average due to fog for a brief period, sea state 2-4.  Wind, force 4-6

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals
Minke Whale  Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Harbour Porpoise  Phocoena phocoena 3
Grey Seal  Halichoerus grypus 2

Seabirds
Common Scoter  Melanitta nigra 5
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 8
Manx Shearwater  Puffinus puffinus 4
Gannet  Morus bassanus 142
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Arctic Skua  Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Black-headed Gull  Chroicocephalus ridibundus 10
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 25
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 59
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 111
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 754
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis 5
Common Tern  Sterna hirundo 69
Arctic Tern  Sterna paradisaea 1
Guillemot  Uria aalge 121
Razorbill  Alca torda 7
Gull sp.  1
Shearwater sp.  1
Larus sp.  12

Terrestrial birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1

We arrived at Immingham on Friday morning and after being checked in we were escorted on to the  'Britannia Seaways' and taken to the drivers mess. We were warmly welcomed by the steward and shown our cabins. After settling into our cabins we enjoyed lunch whilst awaiting the ship's departure. Once the ship had left port and entered the Humber we were allowed on to the bridge where we began surveying.

Bird sightings began fairly quietly with mostly individual birds seen frequently. These included a few different gull species, Common Tern and Kittiwake. Within half an hour, two Grey Seal were briefly seen in the water ahead of the ship. A few hours into the survey we saw an Arctic Skua, some Gannet, Manx Shearwater and Razorbill and Guillemot. Then large groups of Kittiwake began to appear, rafting in groups ranging from 15 up to as many as 110 birds. This raised our hopes of potentially seeing some cetaceans. Sure enough, a Harbour Porpoise appeared followed by another  about an hour later, then a Minke Whale surfaced a couple of times ahead of the ship to the port side.

Minke Whale Mike Bailey 01a
Minke Whale (Archive photo: Mike Bailey)

The bird sightings reduced for a while but during the last half hour of surveying a few large groups of Kittiwake were again sighted with the largest being around 180 birds. Due to fading light we left the bridge at around 8.30pm and shortly afterwards we retired to our cabins for a very early night so that we'd be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to resume surveying at 5am the following morning.

Sightings for the morning started off with Great and Lesser black-backed Gull and Gannet for the first few hours. Then a few Guillemot and a number of Kittiwake were observed. As we neared Cuxhaven Herring Gull and a number of tern species were also seen. As we approached the port of Cuxhaven a number of seals were hauled out on the sandbanks exposed by the low tide. Shortly before the ship approached its berth in the port we left the bridge and headed to the mess for a relaxing lunch and await departure. As it was a lovely sunny day we took the opportunity to get some fresh air and relax on one of the outside decks. Unfortunately on our departure it was too dark to survey so it was another early night as we had an early start in store the following morning.

The morning started well with a good sea state of 2 gradually increasing to 4 by late morning. We were seeing the same species on the return to Immingham as on the outbound journey but many more Guillemot and a few Fulmar were a welcome addition. It was fairly quiet in terms of marine wildlife although there were frequent bird sightings though not in huge numbers. The sea state eventually dropped to 2 and, in the early evening, fog came in reducing visibility. Fortunately it only lasted for around 40 minutes. All was quiet until a little after 7pm. Suddenly, there was some action. A series of splashes appeared quite a distance ahead of the ship. As we got closer it became apparent that there was a feeding frenzy of over 40 Gannet spectacularly diving into the water from quite a height. A smaller group of Kittiwake were also feeding with them. Shortly after this sighting a Harbour Porpoise came into sight swimming at speed. It was heading in the same direction as the feeding birds we had just seen so perhaps it was after a piece of the action!

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 15b
Harbour Porpoise (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

Things went very quiet with sightings of a few Gannet and Kittiwake. As the sun set and it became too dark to continue we thanked the crew and made our way down to our cabins for another early night as we had to disembark at 4am the following morning.

We are extremely grateful to Captain Jesper Jessing and his crew for making us feel very welcome and to DFDS for their continued support.