MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Dublin 'MV Seatruck Power & Panorama' 29-30 November 2012

Graham Ekins and John Perry; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Westbound: Cloud light and variable with wind force 1-2 predominantly from the NNW;  Eastbound, cloud light and variable, slowly increasing in the afternoon, wind force 1 variable, eventually settling to NNE.

Summary of Sightings:

Cetaceans and Seals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phoecona 16
Common Bottlenose Dolphin   Tursiops truncates 1
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 32
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 4

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 2
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 99
Long-tailed Duck   Clangula hyemalis 1
Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator 7
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 20
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus  2
Gannet Morus bassanus 12
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 699
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 4
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 73
Common Gull Larus canus 61
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 79
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 64
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 114
Guillemot Uria aalge 420
Razorbill   Alca torda 7
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Black Guillemot   Cepphus grylle 7

Terrestrial Birds:
Great-crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 5
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 25
Sanderling Calidris alba 60
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos 1
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix 1

Thursday morning dawned bright and clear with a heavy frost and light winds and conditions were therefore ideal for our survey to Dublin.  Our tickets were rapidly issued by the efficient Seatruck staff and we were then driven to the very modern "Seatruck Panorama", where the purser provided us with a filling breakfast.  We were then taken to meet Captain Eoin O'Doherty who welcomed us on to the bridge.

As we waited to leave the dock we watched two Little Auk drift slowly up river with the tide while to the west a huge wheeling flock of Knot provided a superb spectacle.

Once in the Mersey Estuary our recording began with flocks of Sanderling and Oystercatcher cutting across the bows while an flock of 500 Cormorant were fishing close inshore on the rising tide.  For the next hour we logged many flocks of Common Scoter heading north while a Long-tailed Duck in one group added to the interest. Further offshore we found two delightful Little Gull as well as several adult winter plumaged Kittiwake, while numbers of Guillemot steadily increased with 40% already in full summer plumage.

At mid-day we had our first sightings of Harbour Porpoise in ideal viewing conditions with light winds and the sun to our backs.  These animals were busy fishing and appeared to ignore the ship until we were within 200m.  As we approached the Irish coast we were delighted to find a group of eight Short-beaked Common Dolphin which were also busy fishing and so stayed in view for a couple of minutes.

Short beaked CD

Amongst a group of Kittiwake sitting on the water were two Manx Shearwater, which rapidly took flight and headed away from the ship.  Such winter records have increased in European waters in recent years, while the majority of the British population leave the North Atlantic and winter off the coast of southern Brazil and northern Argentina.

With dusk fast approaching we thanked Captain Eoin O'Doherty for his hospitality and left the bridge to start collating the day's entries.

After leaving "Seatruck Panorama" we took a taxi to our guest house in the centre of Dublin, and spent a very enjoyable evening at Gogarty's in Temple Bar where we were entertained by a superb Irish Folk Group.  We did of course sample the famous "brown beverage"!

The following morning was crisp and clear with very light winds.  We took a taxi to the terminal where we boarded the newly commissioned "Seatruck Power".  After an excellent breakfast we scanned the harbour while we waited for the ship to sail.  The variety of wildlife was impressive with 300 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 8 winter plumaged Black Guillemot, several Hooded Crow and a presumably wintering Common Sandpiper.   We also saw many Red-breasted Merganser busy fishing and 100 Black-tailed Godwit feeding along the shore line.

As we travelled east into Dublin Bay we were delighted to find a Bottlenose Dolphin, quickly followed by several Harbour Porpoise, with one group comprising four animals.  However, the surprise over the next hour was the sighting of 24 Short-beaked Common Dolphin in four groups, the largest being 12 individuals.  The location was close to where we had seen this species the previous afternoon due east of Dublin Bay.


As we continued to head east we logged many Guillemot.  Some of the adults in chocolate brown summer plumage looked very impressive in the winter sunshine. We also had a visit from an RAF training helicopter from Anglesey who dropped two crew on to the deck and then picked them off again.  An impressive sight for both us and the crew of the Seatruck "Power".

As we continued east we observed a few more Harbour Porpoise and two Grey Seal as well as increasing numbers of Fulmar, Guillemot and adult Common Gull. The surprise on both legs was the almost total absence of Gannet.  As we approached the first of the wind farms off the Mersey the numbers of Kittiwake increased, with many just sitting in small groups on the mill pond smooth water.

As the light began to fade we thanked Captain Simon Townsend and his crew for their hospitality.  During earlier discussions on the bridge we had been impressed by him recalling his cetacean sightings over the previous months.

We would like to thank Seatruck for their continued support for this important survey route.

Graham Ekins and John Perry; Research Surveyors for MARINElife