MARINElife Survey Report: Liverpool-Dublin 'MV Seatruck Progress & Seatruck Power' 31st October -1st November 2013

Steve Morgan - Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Conditions westbound:     Wind 5-8 SW; sea state 6; visibility fair/good
Conditions eastbound:     Wind 3-4 mostly W/SW; sea state 4; visibility fair/good

Summary of sightings

Cetaceans and mammals:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 2
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 4
Gannet Morus bassanus 57
Cormorant Phalacorcorax carbo 324
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 8
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Croicephalus ridibundus 51
Common Gull Larus Canus  19
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 37
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 10
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 34
Guillemot Uria aalge 40
Auk sp. 45
Gull sp. 844

Terrestrial birds during survey effort
Feral Pigeon Columba livia 9

The Seatruck Progress left Liverpool at 13.45 after some delay due to the previous day's inclement weather.  However, conditions seemed to have improved considerably when we finally got under way and hazy sunshine greeted us as we negotiated the sea lock and turned into the main channel of the Mersey.  I had found, at the last moment, that I would be doing the survey alone since my erstwhile partner had encountered problems en-route to Liverpool.

Harbour Porpoise Peter Howlett 01The usual hordes of Cormorant and gulls lined the sandbanks along the Crosby shoreline, augmented this time by Oystercatcher, Curlew and about fifty Dunlin, while beyond the wind turbines into open sea, there were Kittiwake and Gannet.

The highlights of the relatively brief outward leg were a lone Fulmar and a pair of Manx Shearwater, the latter borne along by a brisk south-westerly wind and almost clipping the surface of the sea with their wingtips as they went.

By 16.45 the light was failing and it had started raining, so I called a halt and retired to the mess for a welcome cup of tea and some dinner.  The Progress lived up to its name and we docked a little ahead of our revised arrival time, after which I spent a very comfortable night in the splendidly appointed Jury's Inn Custom House Hotel.

The next morning the weather had improved beyond all recognition and we departed Dublin in calm seas.  A Grey Seal rolled only fifty metres in front of our bows as we turned left our berth, surely a good omen!

ShagThings were quiet at first even though observing conditions were good.  I knew it wouldn't be long before a cetacean made an appearance and, sure enough, I eventually spotted a Harbour Porpoise three hundred metres ahead and moving to starboard.  I have found that this "one o'clock" position is a prime area to spot porpoises.  Being quite shy, they seem to veer off to the side at around the three hundred metre mark ahead of the oncoming ship and so I have learned to keep a sharp eye on this zone when scanning.  The animal surfaced just once, its distinctive triangular dorsal fin cleaving the surface briefly before it made a lengthy dive.

I came across two more Manx Shearwater (surely not the same two as the previous day?), a Fulmar and a Great Skua.  Nearer the mouth of the Mersey, Gannet were around, as were a few Common Guillemot.  The day ended with a group of eight Shag skimming low across the surface of the sea, their stumpy tails and shorter necks marking them out from the much more common Cormorant.

A big thank you finally to the captains and crew on both legs whose friendly assistance made the job of surveying "solo" relatively easy.

Steve Morgan - Research Surveyor for MARINElife