MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Dublin 'MV Seatruck Progress & Seatruck Power' 26th-27th September 2013

Lee Slater - Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Conditions: Westbound 2-4 WSW-NW; Eastbound 1-2 ESE-EN

Summary of Sightings

Cetaceans and mammals:
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 17
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 5

Red-throated Loon Gavia stellate 1
Black-throated Loon Gavia arctica 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 25
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 76
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 109
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 16
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 4
Common Gull Larus Canus 145
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 87
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 12
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 21
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 44
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 414
Razorbill Alca torda 84
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Auk sp. 3
Gull sp. 3

Terrestrial birds during survey effort
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba 1
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 2
Swallow Hirundo rustica 9    
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 4
Redstarts Phoenicurus phoenicurus 2
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 1
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 1
Passerine sp. 1

I arrived at Liverpool docks in good time and was swiftly escorted from the terminal to my roomy cabin on board the 'Seatruck Progress'. I was kindly supplied with a hearty breakfast which I enjoyed as the ship slipped out of the dock and in to the River Mersey. The conditions looked reasonably promising and a member of staff promptly accompanied me to the bridge.  The captain and crew welcomed me as I organized my forms and began surveying.

Calm seas leaving DublinThe mouth of the Mersey provided an array of coastal birds, including Herring Gull soaring in front of the bridge and Cormorant covering any structure that protruded from the sea's surface.  I quickly had my first mammal with a large male Grey Seal swimming idly in front of the bow.  Soon after, my attention was drawn to some bird activity on the starboard side where I saw the promising sight of gulls arguing and diving.  A dark shape emerged from the epicentre of the activity and I was hoping for a cetacean, but another Grey Seal popped up and watched bemused as a Great Black-backed Gull flew off with his bounty.  

I recorded another two Grey Seal as we ventured further in to the Irish Sea. Shortly afterwards I saw the avian highlight of the first leg, a young Red-throated Diver, that gracefully passed by on the port side.

Half way through the crossing we hit a large fog bank that reduced visibility.  The rain and condensation on the bridge windows made surveying troublesome and I had to shift my attentions to looking out over the starboard side.  This turned out to be a lucky move as I picked out three Harbour Porpoise being closely tracked by a small group of Gannet.  The evening light descended and I left the bridge and went to enjoy another fantastic meal, as we drifted in to Dublin port where I was safely escorted off the ship and out of the terminal.

Never having visited Dublin before, I was keen to go and explore the city.  Luckily my visit coincided with Arthur's Day and the city was therefore alive and vibrant, so I enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere before returning to my hotel room generously provided by Jury's Inn.  After a comfortable night I returned to the port to board the 'Seatruck Power' and breakfast before being escorted to the bridge.

Common Dolphin Biscay 2005-1loThe conditions coming out of Dublin were a stark contrast to the previous day with the sun shining and the sea calm.  As I was sorting my recording forms the captain alerted me to the presence of a large group of feeding seabirds.  I desperately searched the edges of these gatherings for any fins penetrating the surface, but cetaceans temporarily remained elusive.    

However, I didn't have to wait long and very quickly a group of diving Gannet revealed the presence of two feeding Harbour Porpoise, and I then recorded a pair of Harbour Porpoise every half hour for the first two hours of the survey.  There was a period of rapid sightings as I was counting Guillemot, when initially a Grey Seal popped up, followed by yet another Harbour Porpoise surfacing some 100 metres behind the seal.  As I was recording all these sightings, a pair of Common Dolphin flashed across the bow of the ship!

Guillemot and Gannet sightings were constant throughout the return leg, and I luckily I had another diver species as a Black-throated Diver appeared.  I left the bridge thanking the captain and crew and retired to the passenger lounge to enjoy my dinner as the ship docked in Liverpool.  

I would like to thank the crew and staff of Seatruck ferries for their hospitality and to the friendly staff at Jury's inn for the nights' accommodation in Dublin.   

Lee Slater - Research Surveyor for MARINElife