Poole-Santander

Recent Sightings

MARINElife Survey Report: Brittany Ferries ‘Contentin’ Poole – Santander, September 21st – 23rd 2013

Posted 08 October 2013

Duncan Fyfe and Dick Lorand, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: Day 1 SW 3-4 with poor visibility but SE to E 4-6 on day 2 and 3 with bright sunshine.

Summary of Sightings
Cetaceans:
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 1
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutororostata 1
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 25
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Large Roqual sp 11

Seabirds:
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 22
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 210
Shag  Phalacrocorax aristotelis 2
Grey Phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 20
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 8
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 2
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 1
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 14
Guillemot Uria aalge 1

Terrestrial Birds:
Shoveler Anas clypeata 21
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur 1
House Martin Delichon urbicum 1
Yellow Wagtail Moticilla flava 1
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 2
Swallow Hirundo rustica 10
Passerine sp. 1
Hirundine sp. 6

We were efficiently booked in and taken aboard the Cotentin to our very pleasant cabins. Just after we left Poole berth we were escorted to the bridge where we welcomed by Captain Patrick de St. Pierre and his very friendly crew. It was good to see a healthy flock of c. 120 Avocet on Brownsea Island just before the start of the survey.

As we headed out into the western Channel the visibility started to close in, we managed to see a single Sooty Shearwater and 6 Great Skua before the fog curtailed the survey on a couple of occasions. The only cetacean sighting was a single Common Dolphin just in front of the bows.

ContentinBridgeSurveying from Cotentin (Richard Lorand)

Day 2 dawned with better visibility and stronger winds, but birds were thin on the sea with only 17 seen in the first six hours.

A single Kestrel headed south accompanied with a small passerine as did a single Grey Phalarope, an Arctic and 10 "Commic" Tern. Cetaceans appeared as we approached deeper water with blows from large rorqual sp. seen at 2kms from 2 and 3 animals. A pod of c. 15 Common Dolphin headed towards the bows for a free ride shortly followed by another 3. Arriving in Santander in very warm sunshine we relaxed on deck while the ship discharged and reloaded. Whilst that was happening we had excellent views of a Honey Buzzard and as we left Santander the ship was accompanied by 3 adult Mediterranean Gull. Starting our return survey we noted 2 Manx Shearwater and 21 Shoveler just north of Santander. Approaching deeper water 4+ Common Dolphin approached the bows and our first Fin Whale was noted. Four more sightings of large rorqual blows totalling 6 animals were noted whilst crossing the deep canyon.

RorqualBlowRorqual blow (Richard Lorand)

Day 3 saw us on the bridge at 06:45 where we were greeted by a Turtle Dove. During the day the commonest birds were Gannet totalling 134 and Great Skua at 14 birds. A few more passerines were seen with singles of Yellow Wagtail and House Martin, 2 Meadow Pipit and 10 Swallow. 2 Common Dolphin joined the ship in the early morning and, after lunch, the crew saw a single Minke Whale slip past the port side of the ship, followed by a pair of Harbour Porpoise shortly afterwards.

More Gannets and a few Fulmars were noted as we approached Poole with a couple of Shags flying westwards.

Despite rather low numbers of birds this was a very interesting and rewarding survey made even better by the warmth and friendliness of the crew of the Cotentin whom we cannot thank enough. Let us hope that the service resumes again quickly.

Duncan Fyfe and Dick Lorand, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Brittany Ferries Freight ‘Cotentin’ Poole-Santander survey 17-19 August 2013

Posted 23 August 2013

Carol Farmer-Wright and Emma Howe-Andrews, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather
Day 1: wind 7-8; intermittent sunshine, showers and fog; visibility poor to good; sea state variable 4-7
Day 2: wind 4-5; sunny; visibility good to excellent; sea state variable 2-4
Day 3: wind 3-4; sunny; visibility excellent; sea state variable 2-4

Summary of species recorded:
Marine Mammals

Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 42
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 111
Cuviers Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 1 (possible)
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 35
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 14
Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 8
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 30
Tuna sp. Thunnus sp 8
Unidentified whale sp. 1 (distant breaching)

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 314
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea 21
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 13
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 5
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 1
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 1377
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 3
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 5
Long-tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 6
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Black Tern Chlidonias niger 4
Razorbill Alca torda 1
Unidentified Larus sp. 30
Unidentified Tern sp. 2

Terrestrial
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus

Day 1: We were warmly welcomed onboard the Cotentin by the Captain and crew and shown to the bridge to begin our survey. With a prompt departure, the crew skilfully manoeuvred the ship through Poole Harbour and out into the English Channel. The good weather quickly deteriorated with intermittent heavy rain showers that reduced visibility, giving occasional fog patches and increasing the sea state to 7 for a time.

This didn't dampen our spirits as we enjoyed views of Fulmar, Gannet, Great Skua and Razorbill. Unfortunately, no cetaceans were spotted, but we remained hopefully as we approached the north part of the Bay of Biscay at sunset and settled down into our bunks for a good night sleep.

fin 3bDay 2: We awoke to a beautiful sunrise as we approached the canyon and abyssal plain area of Biscay and were thankful that the sea state had reduced to 3 and with good visibility; it was a relief to see a bit of sunshine! It was a little quiet, when all of a sudden the cetaceans sightings started to happen in quick succession. We observed numerous blows and an up close view of a pod of Striped Dolphin riding the wake of a large Fin Whale that had surfaced on the starboard side of the ship. Magnificent! Even the bridge crew joined us to have a look and their enthusiasm was infectious.

Fin Whale

The sightings continued with a possible Cuvier's Beaked Whale breaching, Pilot Whale, Bottlenose Dolphin and Fin Whale travelling north together and Common Dolphin approaching the ship to briefly bow ride before making their way portside. We even observed an unidentified whale breaching seven times on the horizon! The sighting that stopped all of us in our tracks (even the crew) was when four Pilot Whale were spotted 1000 metres ahead of the ship. As we drew closer, two of the animals broke off from the main group and approached the Cotentin, one in particular diving right next to the bow! This provided us with amazing views and also giving us the opportunity to confirm that it was the Long Finned type. For the remainder of the southbound transect to Santander, we observed shearwaters with occasional sightings of jumping and feeding Tuna. Wow!

Pilot Whale Adrian Shephard 04After a short stay in Santander and a delicious lunch in the onboard self-service restaurant, we headed back to the bridge to begin the northbound transect. With excellent visibility and sea states varying between 2 and 4 we started our journey back to the UK. Again, we were lucky to observe further Fin Whale, Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin feeding and leaping and the blows of an unidentified whale that one of the bridge Officers had spotted. Wonderful views of Great Shearwater, Black Tern and a Long-tailed Skua were enjoyed along the way.

Long-Finned Pilot Whale

Day 3: The final transect started on the bridge at 6.30am with a sea state 4 and a 2-3 metre swell, which we thought might reduce our chances of further cetaceans sightings, but we were wrong! Another amazing sunrise greeted us which some phenomenal cloud formations and as the ship continued its course, the sea state and wind dropped to create calmer conditions. Our first sighting of the day was six Common Dolphin and then several Harbour Porpoise. Later, we encountered a large pod of Common Dolphin that included Juveniles leaping and speeding down the starboard side of the ship. Brilliant!

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 19Further into the channel, a small group of Bottlenose Dolphin were observed 500m ahead of the ship with the animals deciding to come in for a brief bow ride providing us with views of two very small calves! The final sightings of the day involved another group of approximately 30 Bottlenose Dolphin feeding with Gannets that had been following a fishing vessel along with other species of seabird. A solitary Harbour Porpoise was the last cetacean recorded and before we knew it, we were making our final approach towards our berth in Poole for an early arrival.

Common Dolphin

 

We would like to say a very big thank you to Brittany Ferries Freight for supporting our survey and to the Captain, Commondant Daniel Roignant, and crew of the Cotentin for making us feel so welcome and their keen interest in our work.

Carol Farmer-Wright and Emma Howe-Andrews, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Brittany Ferries ‘Cotentin’ Poole-Santander survey 21-22nd July 2013

Posted 27 July 2013

Maggie Gamble and Carol Grieg, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: Outward: mainly good visibility with some glare, wind force 3-6 NNW.
Return: visibility poor to good with some fog, wind force 1-2 NNW.

Summary of species recorded:
Marine Mammals
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 1
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 4
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 5
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 4
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 30+
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 43+
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 10
Dolphin sp. 47+
Large Rorqual sp. 1
Large Whale sp. 1 (very distant blows)

Seabirds
Fulmer Fulmarus glacialis 17
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 71
Gannet Morus bassanus 375
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Common Gull Larus canus 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 27
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 32
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 20
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 1
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Shearwater sp. 10

Terrestrial Birds
Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur 1
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus

Striped Dolphin 4

Day 1. The Cotentin made very light work of the sea state 6 during day one of the southbound leg; though we could see small fishing boats having a much rougher ride. This was a very quiet section of the survey, no cetaceans were sighted and surprisingly few seabirds, mainly Gannet, gulls and Manx Shearwater. By sunset we had taken the middle route through the islands off Ushant and were approaching the northern Bay of Biscay.

Day two. Biscay  seemed almost empty of bird life, wherever they were feeding it wasn't around here! Cetaceans, however, were there to be seen in the almost perfect conditions. One small group of Striped Dolphin passed very close down the starboard side in their usual exuberant fashion! Common Dolphin were also seen, mainly in small groups, with some approaching for some sub-surface bow riding. A small whale and calf surface surfaced ahead of the ship, possibly a Minke as one of the bridge crew had seen a Minke and calf on a previous crossing.

Cuviers BW Carol Grieg 02In the canyon area we had great views of two pairs of Cuvier's Beaked Whale. The first pair surfaced 'in their usual manner' in front of the boat but then stayed on the surface down the starboard side allowing Carol to take pictures. The other pair seemed to be logging in the sunshine as they went down the port side.

A Fin Whale (at least one) was sighted by us and another large rorqual blow by the bridge crew and there were also some very distant blows on the horizon. They were being 'quiet' in their behaviour though - to my mind. Often you can see blows far in the distance and track the whale's approach towards the ship (hopefully) but these seemed to appear once and that was it.

Turtle Dove Carol Grieg 01Several hours away from the Spanish coast we noticed two doves making a determined effort to find a spot where they could perch, they finally managed it in the truck exit channel below the bridge. One was a Turtle Dove, the first I've seen for many years, such a shame they've become so rare In the UK.  They roosted there most of the way to Spain, until the hoisting of the flag ousted the stowaways.

Day 3. Dawned as we were nearing the Brest peninsular and this time we took the inner route between the islands. Once past the tide race conditions were perfect for spotting Harbour Porpoise and we counted ten feeding in the area.  Unfortunately a dense fog bank curtailed the survey slightly before time but we did manage to add Bottlenose Dolphin to the now very impressive list of species for the trip.

As ever our thanks go to Brittany Ferries and the captain and crew of the Cotentin for allowing us the privilege of surveying from the bridge and making us so welcome.

Maggie Gamble and Carol Grieg, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Brittany Ferries ‘Cotentin’ Poole-Santander survey 15-17 June 2013

Posted 20 June 2013

Martin Gillingham and James Darke, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather
Outward: good visibility with some glare and spray, wind force 6-7 WSW-SSW then 2-3 ESE-SSE.
Return: visibility poor to good with some rain,  wind force 2-3 ESE-SSE then 3-5 N-NE.

Summary of species recorded:
Marine Mammals
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 1
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 4
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 67
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 4
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 7
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 201
Ocean Sunfish Mola mola 1
Thresher Shark Alopias vulpinus 1
Tuna sp Thunnus sp 80+
Dolphin sp 11

Seabirds
Fulmer Fulmarus glacialis 17
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 66
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 7
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 202
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 2
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 10
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 2
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 11
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 6
Auk sp 3
Shearwater sp 1

Fin Whale BlowholeChecking in and boarding went very smoothly and we were soon on board looking forward to our departure. We left the dock dead on time and slowly made our way out of the harbour and we had views of Brownsea Island Lagoon and the many breeding terns there. As we were passing Old Harry Rocks an Arctic Skua was seen chasing the unfortunate terns.

Starting the survey it was soon apparent that it would difficult in the force 7 southwesterly wind. During the day we recorded mainly Gannets and no cetaceans. As we rounded the Brest peninsula we were surprised that we passed between the mainland and Ushant as previously we had always passed to the west of the island.

Up bright and early the next morning we were happy to see that the sea state had subsided and we were just south of the northern shelf break in Biscay. The dolphin sightings started almost immediately with small groups of Common Dolphin being spotted and then the only Fin Whale of the trip was picked up and gave decent views as it went down the starboard side. As we went further south Striped Dolphin started to put in an appearance. It was fantastic to watch the acrobatics of this species. A distant breaching attracted our attention and as we got closer we were greeted with the sight of a pod of Risso's Dolphin, an excellent bonus. There were also some Bottlenose Dolphin in this area as well. Too soon we were headed into Santander and the ship was prepared for the return journey.

Rissos 2We left slightly earlier than scheduled and after talking to the passengers about potential sightings we headed out of the harbour. As we took up our positions on the bridge we were again greeted with calm conditions. As we edged over the southern shelf we encountered a mixed pod of Common and Striped Dolphin which came in close to the ship. Then out of the blue a Cuviers Beaked Whale surfaced just ahead of us and remained on the surface all the way down the port side. Its white head showing well under the water every time it came up to breathe. As we headed north we continued to encounter groups of dolphin and even a Thresher Shark basking on the surface.

On the final morning we arrived on the bridge, as we were again passing Ushant. There were a few seabirds feeding in the tidal race and amongst the Manx Shearwater there were seven Balearic Shearwater. A significant number of the endangered population of these birds head north to moult in the Channel after breeding. We then encountered some Harbour Porpoise but as we headed east the wind increased and the sightings dropped off and the last highlight was a Puffin on the sea south of Portland.

Once again our thanks go to the staff and crew of the Cotentin who made this a very enjoyable crossing.

Martin Gillingham and James Darke, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Brittany Ferries ‘Cotentin’ Poole-Santander survey 18-20 May 2013

Posted 31 May 2013

Diederik D'Hert and Cliff Morrison, Research surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: NW 4-6

Marine Mammals
Blue Whale Balaenoptera musculus 1
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 1
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 539
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 34

Seabirds
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 7
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 2 
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 18
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 674
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 6
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 4
Gannet Morus bassanus 295
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 4
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 5
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 22
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 24
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 62
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 12
Gull sp. 104
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 97
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 57
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 5
Guillemot Uria aalge 73
Razorbill Alca torda 4

Terrestrial Birds
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 3
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 1
Swallow Hirundo rustica 1
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1

UshantWe were both very impressed with the efficiency and friendliness of all staff throughout our trip, particularly as officers and crew changed watch on the bridge, when everyone acknowledged our presence and came to shake hands each time. Food and service was excellent, so we cannot praise the captain and crew highly enough.

We had 32 hours of observer time over the 3 days, with over 9 hours from Poole to Ile de Ouessant off the Brittany coast on the Saturday, 8 hours from mid-Biscay to Santander on the Sunday morning, followed by a further 5 hours from Santander across the deeper parts of Biscay in the afternoon and finally, over 10 hours from north Biscay back to Poole.

We had speculated that in mid-May most seabirds would be in the vicinity of their breeding colonies and it was probably too early in the year to see many large whales in the Bay of Biscay. This turned out to be generally correct, with the English Channel and SW approaches being quiet. However, there were some exciting surprises, both with seabirds and cetaceans.

Manx Shearwater Cliff Morrison 01Shortly out of Poole, we had excellent views of an adult Great Northern Diver and another was seen further out on the return trip, May is getting late for this species. Guillemot, Razorbill, Common Scoter, Manx Shearwater and many Common Tern were also seen on the approaches to Poole.

Large numbers of Manx Shearwater were also seen around Ushant, with 200 being counted on the outward journey and over 400 on the return, only small numbers breed in this region so these are very high counts. Three early Balearic Shearwater were seen here on the outward journey and a further three on the return leg.

Gannet were the birds seen most frequently across the seas, with 295 being counted in total, immature

birds tended to be in southern Biscay, with mainly adults in the English Channel. A total of 5 Great Skua were seen, 11 Fulmar and, most pleasing, 14 Storm Petrels, these tiny birds are always a difficult bird to spot flying just above the water.

Terrestrial migrants were few, with a single Swallow and Sand Martin the first day and three Whimbrel seen during the Sunday.  A Collared Dove flew from the ship towards shore on the return journey, but it may have been a local bird.

Common Dolphin Cliff Morrison 01Cetacean activity was all confined to the deeper areas of Biscay on the Sunday morning and afternoon. Pods of both Common and Striped Dolphin frequently came close to the ship. They were often seen bow riding and made for a very entertaining time indeed. As suggested above, we were not hopeful for larger whales, but a distant blow was seen from a probable Fin Whale and a bushy blow from another cetacean. A single Fin Whale was spotted in the afternoon, however, the highlight of the trip was sighting a Blue Whale. Spotted first by its blow, Diederik then was fortunate enough to see both its distinctive blue colouration, set back dorsal fin and tail fluke as it dived. We presumed this to be a migrating whale heading for Arctic waters.

This was a most enjoyable trip, showing that even in anticipated quiet periods of the year can still provide good experiences, exciting surprises and useful data. Our thanks go to the Captain and crew of the Cotentin for their hospitality on this trip and to Brittany Ferries for their continued support.

Diederik D'Hert and Cliff Morrison, Volunteer Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Brittany Ferries ‘Cotentin’ Poole-Santander survey 20-22 April 2013

Posted 13 May 2013

Fiona McNie and Stephanie Czudaj, Volunteer Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: Light winds and sea state 3 or less.

Marine Mammals
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 342
Striped Dolphin  Stenella coeruleoalba 5
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 15
Dolphin sp  65
Blackfish sp. 10

Seabirds
Storm petrel  Hydrobates pelagicus 3
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 9
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 221
Gannet Morus bassanus 318
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 5
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 5
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 34
Greater Black-back Gull Larus marinus 19
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 67
Shearwater sp  16
Skua sp  3
Gull (immature) sp  538
Tern sp. 31
Auk sp  8

Terrestrial Birds
Swallow sp.                   2

Cotentin sunset Stephanie Czudaj 01I was really excited to have the opportunity to do a survey on the MV Cotentin but being on a commercial ferry was a new experience for me.  I was grateful for the friendliness of the staff and their willingness to guide us, particularly in making sure the exit on and off the vessel through the myriad of moving lorries was safe and easy.  The facilities on board, food, and cabin were also of a high standard.  The crew on the bridge were very friendly and interested in the survey, particularly when they were able to spot any cetaceans before us!

We left Poole at 11:15 on the 20 April. The FNMOC weather website was suggesting we would have fine weather and low sea states for the majority of the trip and this was indeed the case, with sea state mainly between 1 and 3, and visibility 5 and 6 for most of the journey.

Despite staying on the bridge until the last shred of light we were only just rounding the Brest peninsular at sunset, so unfortunately the vessel reached northern Biscay just after dark.

Unid cetacean Stephanie Czudat 01No cetaceans were seen on the first day, though this did provide the opportunity to see many more coastal birds and a magnificent sunset behind the islands. The second day provided far greater opportunity for cetaceans and, with the earliest possible start, came a steady flow of Common and the occasional Striped Dolphin for the journey into Santander. There were also several sightings of Pilot whale and an unconfirmed blackfish sighting very close to the Spanish coast ­- initial thoughts were that it may have been a False killer whale!  We also seemed to be attracting a number of Swallows which landed on the decks in front of us on a number of occasions.

We arrived in Santander at midday and left again at 4:45 later that afternoon. This provided for another 3.5 hours of daylight, many more dolphin sightings, a brief sighting of a Minke Whale but alas no other whale sightings.

The following morning we arrived on the bridge at sunrise to find the Captain had agreed to allow a crew member to disembark due to a bereavement. This meant a slight change of course, as the vessel was heading towards a harbour on the coast of Brittany where a pilot vessel would come out to meet the crew member. The process of disembarking only took 10 minutes but the survey was halted during the time the vessel was stationary.

Pilot Whale Stephanie Czudaj 01Following the coast of France and up into the channel presented one more Common Dolphin sighting and also a wonderful encounter with large numbers of shearwaters and several auks.  However sightings dwindled through the day, and birds in the English Channel seemed fewer than expected.

Once again our thanks go to the staff and crew of the Cotentin who made this a very enjoyable crossing.

Fiona McNie and Stephanie Czudaj, Volunteer Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 16-18 March 2013

Posted 08 April 2013

Teresa Donohue and Stephanie Wright, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Day 1: SSW 4-8. Day 2: SW-NW 3-5. Day 3: NW 3-0.

Marine Mammals
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 5
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 15
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 124+
Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 6
Dolphin Sp. 1

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 216+
Gannet Morus bassanus 966+
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo  4
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 4
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 17
Common Gull Larus canus c27
Herring Gull Larus argentatus c60
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 54
Guillemot Uria aalge 213
Razorbill Alca torda 25
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 1
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Auk Sp. 4
Gull Sp. 660+
Skua Sp. 1

Terrestrial Birds
Wader Sp. (like Common Snipe) 1

In Poole, rain was bucketing down from a slate grey sky and we were quickly escorted onto the 'Cotentin', joking a little anxiously with the terminal staff about the rough weather forecast. Leaving the harbour we saw Cormorant, Shag and several gull species, with Guillemot, Gannet and Kittiwake becoming more frequent as we headed out into the Channel proper. Sea conditions grew gradually more challenging throughout the morning as swell height increased, with both survey members taking very regular breaks for fresh air! The afternoon saw us passing through several impressive squalls where visibility fluctuated dramatically, from dazzling glare to heavy rain, but we managed to record Great Skua along with many auks and gulls, before retiring early when writing and using binoculars became too difficult.

LF Pilot BrittanyOn the 2nd morning conditions had calmed a great deal and we remained hopeful for a good day of sightings. We started with a tasty croissant and coffee kindly provided by the crew, and settled down to record a steady occurrence of Gannet gliding over the waves and troughs of the Bay of Biscay. Our first cetaceans, Common Dolphin, appeared in several pods leaping excitedly towards the ferry. Large ships soon became visible on the horizon, and the fantastic Cantabrian mountain range of northern Spain also emerged out of the haze and cloud. It was here that we were granted excellent views of Pilot Whale, travelling slowly in a group of 6. Their dark, broad dorsal fins and the bulky head shape of the males were clearly discernible, and we were amazed to see them passing slowly below the starboard windows.

CD 1Sandwich Tern and Cormorant greeted us in Santander, along with a range of gull species busily foraging amidst a regatta of colourful sailing boats. After a good rest and a delicious lunch onboard we soon began the homeward leg and commenced our survey once again. It was not long before we came across Bottlenose Dolphin swimming in front and then disappearing under the ferry, with Gannet trailing after. Swell picked up again in the afternoon, but with perseverance and strong stomachs we picked out 2 Fin Whale rolling at the surface, and 3 more in the distance giving spectacular whale blows. More sightings of Common Dolphin rounded off the day, and we packed up just as sea state began to increase again.

On the 3rd day Great Skua appeared in good numbers, and a mystery bird came hurtling overhead which was too high to identify, but gave the impression of a Snipe. A probable Black Guillemot was also spotted sitting on the water but unfortunately dived quickly out of sight. As we entered the English Channel an enormous number of gulls, Fulmar and Gannet had amassed in their hundreds around some large fishing trawlers. An equally impressive pod of 50+ Common Dolphin appeared briefly, travelling in a very tight, compact group. Approaching Portland, the weather was stunning - clear skies and a sea state dropping to a glassy 0 at times, making a very pleasant journey.

Surveying on CotentinGuillemot dominated our sightings list, with fewer Razorbill, seen in small rafts encountered every few minutes. No more cetaceans were encountered despite the outstanding conditions, but we were kept entertained by the appearance of lots of interesting military ships, a submarine, and a naval helicopter flying close by the ferry. It was also a great fun to be able to spot some familiar coastal landmarks from the unusual perspective of the sea. We finished our survey shortly after adding Common Gull to our list, seen foraging amongst other gulls along a distinctly marked tidal front near to Old Harry Rocks. We then bid our farewell and thanks to the crew and vacated the bridge to allow them to manoeuvre into Poole harbour.

Unloading was a great excitement for both of us, having never been on a freight carrier before. We watched all sorts of strange shaped items strapped to long lorries being unloaded, and then were signalled to make our way out safely. Our sincere gratitude once again goes to the tremendously friendly and helpful crew who made our trip onboard 'Cotentin' such an excellent one. We also thank Brittany Ferries for continuing to support MARINElife's work, and we look forward to our next survey with you.

Teresa Donohue and Stephanie Wright, Research Surveyors for MARINElife 

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 16-18 February 2013

Posted 24 February 2013

Joe O'Hanlon and Peter Lewis, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather:
Day 1: Light winds and clear skies, sea state 3
Day 2: Light winds and clear skies, sea state 2
Day 3: E 3 inc. 8, clear skies, sea state 3 inc. 5

Marine Mammals
Cuvier's Beaked Whale  Ziphius cavirostris 4 (1 dead + 3 prob)
Bottlenose Dolphin  Tursiops truncatus 16
Common Dolphin  Delphinus delphis 74
Dolphin sp  25

Seabirds
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 166
Gannet  Morus bassanus 523
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 31
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 6
Great Skua  Stercorarius skua 21
Black-headed Gull  Chroicocephalus ridibundus 16
Common Gull  Larus canus 2
Mediterranean Gull  Larus melanocephalus 2
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 14
Yellow-legged Gull  Larus michahellis 444 (c400 on headland - Santander)
Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 39
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 8
Little Gull  Hydrocoloeus minutus 5
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 93
Puffin  Fratercula arctica 3
Guillemot  Uria aalge 135
Razorbill  Alca torda 81
Auk sp 69
Gull sp  352
Large gull sp  76
Shearwater sp   1 Manx/Balearic ?

Terrestrial Birds
Canada Goose Branta canadensis 1
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 19
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 3
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis 1
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 2
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Turnstone Arenaria interpres 1
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 1
Jackdaw Corvus monedula 2
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 1
Diver sp  4
Wader sp   35

We left Poole Ferry Terminal at 08.00hrs on a pleasant morning on the 16th: 2 adult Mediterranean Gulls crossed in front of us straight away and, passing through the narrow Sandbanks exit to Poole Harbour, we were able to look down on the beach of Shell Bay from our lofty vantage point on the bridge in time to see the Brent Geese leaving the sand's edge as the morning dog-walkers set out.  A Black-necked Grebe dived in front of the ship and, almost immediately, we were into our first cetaceans - 14 Bottlenose Dolphin within the marked channel!

BN Dolphin_2013_02_16

Thereafter we enjoyed a day of sunshine from clear blue skies, although sailing straight into the sun for a while did make viewing harder (were we complaining in February? - no). Gannets were frequent all day, plus Great Skua, Guillemot, various common gull species, Fulmar, Cormorant and some Shag. A small trawler actively fishing was accompanied by 80+ Gannet, about 350 gulls including many Kittiwake, many Fulmar and a Great Skua. Passing Brittany we encountered 30+ Common Dolphin in a wide-spread feeding group accompanied by diving Gannets, then later some smaller dolphin groups, only one nearer group identifiable to species (Common again).

The next morning it was getting light about 7 o'clock and we were set for another beautiful sunny morning but quiet until a single Common Dolphin broke the surface at 8.30. Later the ship, making 20 knots, was overtaken by a lone meadow Pipit heading for Spain (and still with an hour and a half to go). We spotted two distant groups of unknown dolphin species. Following this, we passed a dead Cuvier's Whale some distance off the port side and attracting the attention of some large gulls. This was some way behind us when, to our considerable surprise, a first-winter Iceland Gull lowered itself on outstretched, slow-flapping wings in front of the bridge windows only to rise up again and disappear. This was out of the accepted range of Iceland Gull and we wondered whether we had "picked it up" when passing the area of the whale carcase.

Two Bottlenose Dolphin appeared as we approached Santander and crossed in front of the ship. Yellow-legged Gulls were numerous in the harbour along with other gull species including a few Mediterranean Gulls.  Behind the harbour we could see the snow-covered Cantabrian Mountains, although unfortunately not very clearly in conditions which were now very hazy. Two passerines in a palm tree turned out to be House Sparrows. Surface sea temperature by now was 13°C with an air temperature of 16°C.

MedGull_2013_02_16

We left Santander on time mid-afternoon and headed back north across the Bay of Biscay in quiet conditions. Forty-five minutes out Joe was able to identify three Cuvier's Beaked Whale swimming slowly but quite distantly: unfortunately they turned away from the ship.  Subsequently there was little to note until dusk, when 35 Common Dolphin in several groups approached the ship fast from off the port bow, followed by another five (species uncertain) a few minutes later.

The morning of the 18th found one of our team enjoying a most delicious pain-au-chocolat with coffee provided by Brittany Ferries when a pink-red neon ship appeared on the horizon: this 'ship' then widened and rapidly shape-shifted and rose above the horizon-haze as a giant balloon manifesting itself as the Sun. Another four minutes and it had changed colour and was starting to dazzle the eyes, lighting up the tops of the slight swell in a repeating pattern of gold.

The wind was interesting this morning also: force 3 at 07.00hrs, 4 at 07.15, 5 at 07.30, 6 at 07.45, 7 at 08.30 and 8 at 09.45hrs. The swell remained quite low, however, as the wind was from the east-southeast.

As we approached the northwest tip of France we noticed a few Little Gull, then birds increased as we entered the Channel (Fulmar, Kittiwake, Great Skua, Guillemot and groups of Razorbill). Four in the afternoon found us approaching Poole Harbour, with a sea temperature of 8°C and an air temperature of 6°C; the ship slowly edged its way through the narrow channel and we finished the day with a lofty view of Avocet gathering on Brownsea Island Lagoon. Three days of good visibility and mostly sunny skies!

Our thanks to Capt. Le Bourdonnec and crew for happily accepting us on the bridge and for plentiful good food for the three days. Thanks also to the office staff in Poole for sorting out our cabins and to Brittany Ferries as a whole for providing these valuable survey opportunities.

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 19-21 January 2013

Posted 27 January 2013

Michael Bamford & Steve Morgan, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather:
Day 1: NE force 5-6, sea state 6. Visibility poor at start improving later.
Day 2: WNW force 6-7 in am with squall to force 9. Sea state 5-6. Visibility good.
N force 2, backing SW force 4 in pm, intermittent rain. Sea state 3, 2 m swell. Visibility good - poor
Day 3: NNE force 7 dec. 1 in pm. Sea state 7 dec. 1, Swell 3m.+ dec. 0 later. Visibility, moderate, improving.

Cetaceans
Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 4
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 3
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 21(+)
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 4(+)
Dolphin sp.   5
Common seal Phoca vitulina 2  (one probable)

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 4
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 181
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 27
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 1
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 6
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 9
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 16
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 14
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 40
Guillemot Uria aalge 181
Auk sp.   56
Skua sp.  3

Terrestrial Birds
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Blackbird Turdus merula 1
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos 1

We boarded the 'Cotentin' with very efficient help from the terminal staff. The trip got off to a good start with the Great Northern and Red-throated Diver seen as we crossed Poole harbour.

Cotentin Survey

Crossing the Channel, in a brisk NE wind, we were treated to three small groups of Common Dolphin coming to the ship's bow. Bird sightings were dominated by Gannet, with surprising numbers of Great Skua, and a very well marked Pomarine Skua.  We also saw a Blackbird and Song Thrush, heading south, evidently deciding the UK cold spell was here to stay.

Waking in the Southern Bay the morning was quiet but we were eventually treated to a small pod of Pilot Whales containing one calf with a characteristically falcate dorsal fin.

In Santander we decided to leave the ship and, rather mistakenly, decided to walk to town - a considerable walk to and from the dock exit, leaving little time to enjoy the warmth of January sun. Back on the ship we had a chance to photograph the Shag and dark-mantled 'intermedius' type Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the Harbour.

Mediterranean gull small

Leaving Santander we were very pleased to see a group of ghostly white Mediterranean Gulls. As the light faded and the breeze got up we saw two groups of dolphins, one of Striped Dolphin, and one with a probable mix of Striped and Common Dolphin.

Rejoining the bridge after rounding Ushant the sea state and swell steadily improved to a virtual flat calm by the time we reached the Dorset coast. In the southern Channel we again saw a number of small groups of Common Dolphin and, nearer Poole, we saw one probable and one definite Common Seal.

 

Bottlenose dolphin Jan13

The calm seas allowed views of large numbers of Guillemot on the water, many in spring plumage. Just as we were leaving the bridge a final treat was a slow moving group of 3 Bottlenose Dolphin which passed close by the ship just outside the harbour entrance.

Despite the time of year this was a rewarding trip and we would like to thank the master and crew of the 'Cotentin' together with the staff at the Terminal.

Michael Bamford & Steve Morgan, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 17th - 19th November 2012

Posted 13 December 2012

Pat Howard and Peter Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Day 1: wind NW 4 sea state 2/3, visibility 6.
Day 2: wind N veering NNW 6, sea state 4 increasing to 5, visibility 5
Day 3: wind S 6 gusting 7, sea state 4 increasing 5, visibility 5.

Cetaceans
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 166
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 1
Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 2
Dolphin sp. (probably Striped Dolphin)   3

Seabirds
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1 (in Santander harbour)
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 38
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea 3
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 6
Gannet Morus bassanus 343
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 45
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 85
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 1
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 3 (another 7 seen in Santander harbour)
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 4
(3 of the 4 were seen on approach to Santander harbour and could have been Yellow-legged Gull) 
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 28
Guillemot Uria aalge 15
Razorbill Alca torda 10
Auk sp.  3
Large gull sp.  2
Skua sp.   1


Terrestrial Birds
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 1
Redwing Turdus iliacus 1
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 1

It was with a great deal of anticipation that myself and Peter Jones boarded the Cotentin, the route that we were about to survey has long been held to be the mecca for cetacean and sea bird surveyors, so we were looking forward to seeing some exciting cetaceans and seabirds. We started the trip from the aft deck, so that we could check the lagoon on Brownsea Island for birds. There were plenty, with a party of 11 Spoonbills being the highlight along with good numbers of Avocet, Little Egret, Shelduck, Oystercatcher and Teal as a supporting cast. As we passed the island we managed to pick out 2 Black-necked Grebes on the sea.

Common Dolphin7aAfter a short delay we were escorted to the bridge and the survey proper began,  the weather was fairly calm, which was promising for spotting cetaceans. It was, however, a quiet start with only Guillemot, Kittiwake and Gannet noted and the occasional Great Black-backed Gull and Great Skua also seen.

As we moved further across the Channel, cetaceans began to appear. The Cotentin seemed to act as a magnet for Common Dolphin with 18 being observed in the space of 33 minutes. It then went quiet on the cetacean front until, as we approached the French coast, a large pod of Common Dolphin (61) came in towards the ship. This spectacular sighting was a fitting end to the day.

Day 2. We were back on the bridge by 0740 the next morning, to discover that the choppy sea state meant that spotting cetaceans was going to be difficult. However, this proved not to be the case as within minutes of arriving on the bridge a group of 3 probable Striped Dolphin were observed approaching the ship, followed by a Minke Whale which performed brilliantly for us, spy hopping and breaching. As we got closer to the Spanish coast 2 Pilot Whale were spotted and 10 minutes later a pod of 7 Common Dolphin joined the ship for a spot of bow riding.

MinkeWhale2011On the birding front Meadow Pipit and Redwing were seen on the ship at dawn and the birding got even better as we approached the Spanish coast. A Little Gull and Mediterranean Gull joined the now familiar Gannets, Kittiwakes and Great Skuas. Best of all a mixed flock of Great shearwater and Cory's Shearwater were observed on the approach to Santander. As we made our way into the harbour several Herring Gull-type birds were seen flying, they were most likely Yellow-legged Gulls but identity couldn't be confirmed with the views we had.

After lunch and before the ship left Santander birding was resumed from the aft deck, a  Great Northern Diver proved to be the star attraction ably backed up by a supporting cast of Mediterranean Gull, several Yellow-legged Gull's and of course Black-headed Gull.

Once the ship was underway we made our way back to the bridge to resume the survey. As the sea conditions had not improved we didn't think that we would see many cetaceans, and so it proved with just one Striped Dolphin being seen. Seabirds were the familiar Gannet, Kittiwake with the odd Great Skua. The highlight of the day was a Leach's Petrel which was handed to Pat during the afternoon by a member of the crew; it had been discovered on the ship during the day and taken into care. The bird seemed to have suffered no physical damage, but appeared dazed. It was kept warm and provided with water.

Leach's PetrelDay 3.   A grey overcast day with a steadily increasing southerly wind. This was the best day for dolphins with 80 Common Dolphin seen during the day. Seabirds were also in evidence with good numbers of Gannet and Great Skua being seen. Smaller numbers of Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill and Fulmar and Great Black-backed Gull were also recorded. One hitchhiker was discovered on board - a Starling travelled from Spain to Poole on the bridge superstructure. As we approached Poole Harbour an attempt was made to release the Leach's Petrel but it refused to fly off and it was taken to a bird hospital in Norfolk.

A huge vote of thanks must go to the Captain and crew of the Cotentin, who ensured that our stay on the ship was a real pleasure, being extremely helpful and taking an interest in the work being undertaken.

Foot note: The Leach's Petrel was successfully released back into the wild on 23rd Nov at Great Yarmouth.  A Leach's Petrel was reported from Horsey Gap Norfolk on 24th Nov.

Pat Howard and Peter Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife


MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 20th - 22nd October 2012

Posted 01 November 2012

Rob Petley-Jones and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather:
Day 1:            Poole to Ushant - NW veering S force 3-4, cloudy but clearing near Ushant;
Day 2:            South Biscay - ENE veering SW then N force 3-1, increasingly calm and clear;
Day 3:            Ushant to Poole - NNE force 5-6, heavy cloud with dense fog from mid Channel

Cetaceans and mammals:
Fin Whale  Balaenoptera physalus 11
Killer Whale  Orcinus orca 5
Long-finned Pilot Whale  Globicephala melas 1
Risso's Dolphin  Grampus griseus 4
Northern Bottlenose Whale  Hyperoodon ampullatus 2
Bottlenose Dolphin  Tursiops truncatus 25
Common Dolphin  Delphinus delphis 59
Striped Dolphin  Stenella coeruleoalba 60
Harbour Porpoise  Phocoena phocoena 11
Unidentified Dolphin sp.  15
Unidentified Large Rorqual sp.  4
Unidentified medium whale sp.  1

Seabirds:
Common Scoter  Melanitta nigra 6
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea 67
Great Shearwater  Puffinus gravis 39
Unidentified large shearwater sp.            101
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Balearic Shearwater  Puffinus mauretanicus 142
Storm Petrel  Hydrobates pelagicus 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 299
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 8
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 37
Great Skua  Stercorarius skua 60
Parasitic (Arctic) Skua  Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Long-tailed Skua  Stercorarius longicaudus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 25
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 2
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 11
Mediterranean Gull  Larus melanocephalus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 16
Yellow-legged Gull  Larus michahellis 19
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 5
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 17
Large Gull sp.  62
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 4
Razorbill Alca torda 7
Auk sp.  7

Terrestrial Birds
Sparrowhawk Accipter nisus 1
Lark sp.  9
Pipit sp.  20
White (Pied) Wagtail Motacilla alba 3
Robin Erithacus rubecula 1
Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris 8

Common dolphinIt was a great relief for us to be made extremely welcome aboard the Cotentin after an arduous journey from Cumbria along some of England's worst motorways!. The Poole office staff and ship's crew were all very helpful, and after settling into our cabin we were escorted to the bridge to prepare while the ship slipped out of Poole Harbour. The lagoon on Brownsea Island was packed with birds, the most notable being a good number of Little Egret fishing in the shallow waters.

We started recording as we left Poole Harbour, out into the Channel past the Old Harry Rocks under grey but not heavy skies. The sea state was very promising for cetacean spotting, but a fairly quiet start produced a number of Kittiwake and Great Skua, a brief view of Harbour Porpoise and a couple of very brief sightings of unidentified dolphin south of Lyme Bay and Start Point.

As we continued across the Channel in a fairly calm sea we recorded another 10 Harbour Porpoise as well as increasing numbers of Gannet and a steady number of Great Skua including a group of 11 birds resting together on the sea, however, we were surprised by the extremely low numbers of auks and Fulmar. As part of the flotsam survey, we were amused by the sight of a Great Black-backed Gull taking a rest on a large wooden pallet! Several groups of migrating Starling were seen heading for France.

As we approached the passage between mainland France and Ushant the sea state calmed dramatically, and we recorded a flurry of Little Gull as we approached the calm waters between the islands, while more bizarre was a Sparrowhawk flying from the islands to the mainland! In the calm waters of the sound the ship was spotted by two groups of Common Dolphin which charged in towards the ship to bow ride briefly before we outpaced them. It was a delight to watch them playing in the wake of the ship, with some spectacular displays of team surfing on the stern waves! All this and a stunning sunset over the far Atlantic made for an excellent end to our first day on board.

Day 2 saw us on the bridge at 07.45 after a hearty breakfast, with the daylight leaking into the sky above a fairly calm sea - what a treat to watch for whales in a calm Biscay towards the end of October! We were immediately rewarded with a number of Common Dolphin and a very distant group of large animals which proved impossible to identify. The serious cetacean-spotting mood was lightened somewhat by the arrival of a Robin outside the bridge windows, which stayed with the ship all the way to Santander.

Fin 3Further south we were finally rewarded by good views of Fin Whale, with one leaving a fine fluke print that passed close down the starboard side of the ship. Excitement mounted with Jane spotting a group of Killer Whale some way ahead of the ship, but we were disappointed these did not stay visible as the ship approached their position.

The approach to Santander was very busy with shearwaters, with good numbers of both Cory's Shearwater and Great Shearwater. Several flotillas of smaller shearwaters made us scratch our heads a bit, but these eventually proved to be Balearic Shearwater, with many of the darker bellied form present. As the Cotentin made her way into Santander harbour, we recorded a number of Yellow-legged Gull and a solitary adult Mediterranean Gull before halting the southbound survey.

 

After a refreshing walk around the streets of Santander and a very good lunch on board the Cotentin, we resumed our recording as the ship began the return journey into a virtually mill-pond calm Bay of Biscay - perfect conditions for whale spotting!

We encountered the large groups of shearwaters again a couple of kilometres out from Santander, with even more Cory's Shearwater in evidence. A number of small groups of unidentified dolphin were recorded at some distance from the ship, followed by a nearer group of 25 Bottlenose Dolphin. Throughout the afternoon, and with some enthusiastic spotting support from the crew on the bridge, a number of Fin Whale were recorded with blows and clear views of rolling backs and dorsal fins as close as 500 metres from the ship. The most spectacular sighting was of two Fin Whale lunge feeding 500 metres to starboard, closely accompanied by at least four Risso's Dolphin! Everybody on the bridge got very excited at this point. A lone Pilot Whale, initially picked up by one of the crew off the port side, gave very good views for all.

Great ShearwaterBird records were regular with continuing sightings of both Cory's Shearwater and Great Shearwater, and also two sightings of juvenile Long-tailed Skua and a couple of Storm Petrel, all close into the ship's bow.

Jane was very fortunate to record a Northern Bottlenose Whale 500 metres to starboard, and a second probable was recorded very late on as the sun was close to setting. In wonderfully low and soft sunlight, several groups of Striped Dolphin came into the bow to take brief turns at bow riding, while further out a last Fin Whale surfaced as the sun set on what had been a most magnificent afternoon of whale watching.

Day 3 was a bit of a come-down with low cloud and strengthening NNE winds from the very start, whipping up a choppy sea over a heavy Atlantic swell. Cetacean spotting was impossible, and all recording became impossible as dense fog settled in from mid-Channel until our final entrance into Poole Harbour.

Our most grateful thanks go to all the Brittany Ferries staff and crew of the Cotentin, who could not have been more helpful and interested in our work.

Rob Petley-Jones and Jane Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 15th-17th September 2012

Posted 19 September 2012

Rick Morris and Durwyn Liley, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Southbound: WSW-SSE 2-4 Northbound: NE-SW 2-4

Cetaceans & Sharks:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 11
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 87
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 36
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 41
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 9
Sperm Whale Physeter macrocephalus 17
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 1
Large Rorqual Sp.1
Shark Sp. 1

Seabirds:
Fulmar Fulmaris glacialis 112
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea 105
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 10
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 36
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 25
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 9
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 894
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 23
Common scoter Melanitta nigra 1
Great Skua Stecorarius skua 26
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 46
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 19
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 45
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 2
Razorbill Alca torda 1
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 30
Auk Sp. 3
Shearwater Sp. 15
Gull Sp. 2

Terrestrial Birds:
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 3
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava 2
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba 1
Alba Wagtail 1
Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe 1
Passerine Sp. 10

 Harbour Porpoise 1

On arrival at Brittany Ferries office on Saturday morning, we were quickly booked in and escorted to our survey vessel, the 'Cotentin' whereupon we enjoyed a superb breakfast before the start of a long days surveying.

We slipped our berth and headed out of Poole Harbour and were given permission to head up to the bridge. Weather conditions were very favourable so we were optimistic of some good sightings and we were not disappointed, as we had four Harbour Porpoise in the Channel as well as Great Skua, Fulmar and Gannets. We did have a quiet spell through the busy shipping lanes but were rewarded with more Harbour Porpoise sightings in the Celtic Sea, off the French coast. This included a small group (with accompanying Gannets) chasing their quarry, we have never seen them move so fast in the water, their blows clearly seen and one animal even breached clear of the surface, something I have never witnessed before, a truly great sight.

Corys Shearwater 5 Portland

Day two found us up on the bridge at first light and we were informed by the crew that we had just missed a Fin Whale, this we found encouraging and so we began surveying and within twenty five minutes had three Sperm Whale followed shortly after by a Fin Whale.

The rest of the trip southbound rewarded us with more Sperm and Fin Whale as well as small groups of Common, Striped and Bottlenose Dolphin. Also of note on this leg were good numbers of Cory's Shearwater as well as occasional sightings of Manx, Sooty, Great and Balearic Shearwaters. Heading into Santander, nineteen Cormorants flew overhead and as we reached the Isle de Mouro we packed away our kit and made our way down to chill out on the back deck during the turn-a-round.

The stop in Santander seemed to go quickly and we soon found ourselves back on the bridge after our lunch, surveying northbound towards home. Conditions were again good with a sea state of two most of the way, allowing for more sightings of whales as well as Striped Dolphin coming in to 'bow ride'. It was just before 16:30 that a brief view of a 'brownish' object appeared just to port in front of the ship, a brisk walk across to the port bridge wing gave a positive ID of a Cuvier's Beaked Whale, always a welcome sight even if brief. More Sperm and Fin Whale blows were observed before an unidentified shark appeared in front and disappeared down the starboard side, followed by more Sperm and Fin Whale taking us to dusk and on to our evening meal.

Gannet on deckWhilst dining we were shown a couple of photos by one of the crew of a 'large bird' that had landed on the outer deck and asked if we could identify it. To our surprise it was a Gannet, it looked a bit the worse for wear but we were informed that it eventually took flight and headed back out to sea.

The final day's surveying began again at first light where we found ourselves once more in the Celtic sea, again with good conditions, we scanned the surface and the sky but all was fairly quiet until just before 09:00 when we had our first Harbour Porpoise sighting of three animals. Further Harbour Porpoise sightings continued until 13:15, only interrupted by seven Bottlenose Dolphin just before 11:00. There were no further cetacean sightings but the rest of the afternoon was peppered with Gannet, Fulmar, Great Skua and gulls, and not forgetting a Guillemot and Shag. As we reached Old Harry rocks and turned into Poole Harbour we packed away our equipment and said our thanks and farewells to the crew before heading down below ready to disembark.

Our thanks go to the Captain and crew of the 'Cotentin' and to the shore staff that were as ever, very helpful.

We would also like to thank Brittany Ferries for their continued support in MARINElife's work.

Rick Morris and Durwyn Liley, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 11th-13th August 2012

Posted 20 August 2012

Sharon Morris and Suzie Opacic, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: Southbound: NW 1-3 Northbound: SW-NW 2-3

Cetaceans:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 10
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 192
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 4
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 3
Rorqual Sp.1

Seabirds:
Fulmar Fulmaris glacialis 13
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea 10
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 162
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 17
Great Skua Stecorarius skua 6
Common Gull Larus canus 4
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 26
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 24
Guillemot Uria aalge 5

Once we arrived at the port we were quickly escorted to the 'Contentin', with plenty of time for a hearty breakfast before our long first day surveying (we anticipated plenty of daylight).

Common-DolphinsWe went up to the bridge just before departing and were greeted by the bridge crew who were very welcoming and pointed us in the direction of the tea and coffee facilities. Captain Antonie Bienvenue introduced himself to us and we settled down to a hopefully eventful day. As predicted we were presented with a few different gull species throughout the morning as well as a great sighting of three Great Skuas, then just before lunch, our first sighting of Common Dolphins.

In the later part of the day we encountered three Cory's Shearwaters and then the action really started as the bridge crew pointed out dolphins approaching from the port side, which was one of three pods that decided to entertain us and keep us on our toes, (the other two pods came in directly ahead and then from starboard). Once the excitement died down, we spoke to some of the crew about MARINElife, which from then on really enthused them. The next morning was just as productive, as another pod of dolphins came in from the port side. After the first cetacean sighting of the day a young cadet approached us and asked us to try and point out any other sightings as he had not yet seen any. He wanted to know more about MARINElife and how he could become more involved, so we advised him to have a look at our website as all the information is on there. 
Our first whale sightings came in the form of three Fin Whales, unfortunately we only saw the large distinctive blows, but it's nice to know they are out there. 

Rescued Storm-PetrelOn the return journey we were not so lucky with the cetaceans, but the birds kept us busy. During the morning a couple of the crew came to us with a box and said they had found something in the engine room. On inspecting the contents we discovered it was a Storm Petrel! They were not sure how it got there and were not sure if it was injured. One of the crew had given it the name Peu Peu - which we think may mean 'little one'. We couldn't see any obvious signs of injury so we let it rest in the cabin for a few hours. As we approached the Channel we decided to see if it had recovered enough to fly away. However, it was rather reluctant to come out of the box and once on the deck flapped a few times before deciding it wanted to go back in the box. So Suzie took it home as the Cotentin was going to Dunkirk for its refit and would not be returning to Spain. Suzie made a few enquiries and took Peu Peu to the Seabird Centre in Ringwood. They said they would let it recoup and build its strength for a couple of days before releasing it.

We would like to thank Captain Antonie Bienvenue and all the crew of the 'Cotentin' for the warm welcome and assistance they gave us during a very pleasant survey.

Sharon Morris and Suzie Opacic, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole - Santander 'Cotentin' 21st - 23rd July 2012

Posted 26 July 2012

Michael Bailey and Graham Ekins, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: Southbound: NE-WNW 2-3 with high cloud decreasing, good visibility; Northbound: very light NE-SE breeze, sunny

Cetaceans/Seals
Short-beaked Commn Dolphin Delphinus delphis 883 including at least 122 calves
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 47
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 110
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 2
Dolphin Sp. Delphinus/Stenella 58

Sharks/Turtles
Basking Shark Cetorhinus maximus 1
Leatherback Turtle Dermochelys coriacea 1

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 93
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea 47
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 36
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 56
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 4
Gannet Morus bassanus 2051
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 18
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 22
Great Skua Stecorarius skua 6
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 539 
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 10
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 319
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 47
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 32
Little Tern Sterna albifrons 3
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 7
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 15
Guillemot Uria aalge 3
Razorbill Alca torda 1

Terrestrial Birds
Swift Apus apus 2
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 2
Hoopoe Upupa epops
1

We decided to stay the night in a B&B in Poole after our Friday evening journey from Essex. The following morning we arrived refreshed at the Brittany Ferries terminal after an excellent breakfast and a good night's sleep. The Brittany Ferries Booking Manager rapidly processed our tickets, organised safe parking and transport to the very modern Cotentin. We were then shown our well-appointed cabins. As we passed out of Poole Harbour Captain Patrick De Meherenc de St Pierre welcomed us on to the bridge. Over the next 3 days his officers and many of the crew showed great interest in the cetaceans, birds and other wildlife that we were recording.
Immature Common DolphinAs we passed Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour we could see 7 Spoonbills, many Black-tailed Godwits and Sandwich Terns on the freshwater pool. Then, as we travelled down the Channel, we started to see the first of 47 Harbour Porpoises seen on the survey, with groups of up to 6 seen intermittently until early evening. We also encountered a Minke Whale and our first small groups of Short-beaked Common Dolphins with attendant calves. Mid-way to the Brest peninsular we saw a Swift and later a pair of Little Egrets flying NW towards the UK. Gannet numbers increased steadily as we approached the colonies off the French coast, one French fishing boat being accompanied by 350 Gannets and 60 Herring Gulls. As we continued SW we logged several Manx Shearwaters, Fulmars, a Great Skua and a Storm Petrel.

Our route took us close to the Brittany (Bretagne) coast at Pointe de Saint Mathieu and then down past Pointe du Raz, the most westerly point in France. Here we encountered several Balearic Shearwaters including a tightly packed flock of 37 sitting on the sea close to the headland. We continued to record Harbour Porpoises and another Minke Whale as well as decreasing numbers of seabirds until 21:30 when we retired for a good night's sleep.

DuskThe following morning we were on the bridge to see the first rays of the dawn sky, a beautiful scene. Shortly afterwards we started to record our first Striped Dolphins, some with attendant calves. Many groups were actively fishing and were accompanied by our first Cory's Shearwaters. As we continued south we encountered increasing numbers of Short-beaked Common Dolphins, many also accompanied by their calves. The presence of so many young animals in the groups was very encouraging. The surprise on this leg of the survey was a Hoopoe flying along in front of the ship; we were 40nm off the Spanish coast. It quickly outpaced the Cotentin, rapidly disappearing to the south. As we approached Santander harbour we started to see both adult and juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls.

The Captain gave us permission to leave the ship so we took the opportunity to walk around the town and enjoy a cool drink in the warm sunshine.

As we left Santander harbour late afternoon we saw many adult and immature Mediterranean Gulls, newly arrived from breeding colonies in central Europe. We also had views of many fledged juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls with their attendant parents on a vegetated island in the harbour mouth.

As we travelled north we encountered many more groups of Common and lesser numbers of Striped Dolphins. We also saw Great Skuas and a few more Cory's Shearwaters.

Dawn the following morning saw the sun rising over a glassy sea; we were close to Ile d'Ouessant off the coast of Brittany. Almost immediately we spotted our first Harbour Porpoises of the morning accompanied by more Balearic Shearwaters. We were then delighted to spot a Basking Shark 10nm off the Brittany coast, the calm conditions allowed us excellent views of this large animal as it swam slowly past the boat. However, this was not to be the only surprise of the survey, Leatherback Turtleat 09:33 we spotted a large turtle in the water circa 500m ahead of the ship. As it came closer it raised its head giving us a clear view of this impressive animal. The dorsal ridges on the carapace, the huge head and the massive front flippers allowed us to confirm it was a Leatherback Turtle. It then dived but the clear water allowed us to watch it disappear into the depths, the location was 45nm west of Jersey.

As we travelled NE across the Channel the sea remained calm in bright, sunny conditions.  We continued to log Gannets, Storm Petrels and Manx Shearwaters. The occasional fishing boat being accompanied by large numbers of Gannets and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Off Portland the cliffs were shrouded by a light haze. As we approached the south coast we were surprised to see 2 small groups of Little and Sandwich Terns heading purposefully south, it seemed that they were already starting their southbound migration. As we passed the northern tip of Studland Bay we came across Common Terns busy fishing offshore. These were to be the last species recorded on this memorable survey.

Before leaving the bridge we thanked the Captain De Meherenc de St Pierre for his hospitality on the crossing. We also took email addresses from crew members who had asked for images of the turtle, dolphins and of the dawn sky that morning. We made our way to the restaurant to thank the Chef for the superb cuisine during the survey. 

We would like to thank Brittany Ferries for their continued support of this important survey route. 

Michael Bailey, Graham Ekins, Research Surveyors for MARINElife.

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole - Santander ‘Cotentin’ 16th - 18th June 2012

Posted 21 June 2012

Pete Howlett and James McCarthy, Research Surveyors for MARINElife 

Weather: Day 1: SW 8, occasional showers; Day 2: variable 2-3 and clear southbound, NE 5 and rain north bound; Day 3: SW 2-3 and sunny

Cetacea
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 1
Sperm Whale Physeter macrocephalus 1
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 28
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 1,020
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6
Unidentified Dolphin species 25
Small whale sp. 1 

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmaris glacialis 31
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea 1
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 46
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 20
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 11
Gannet Morus bassanus 572
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 4
Great Skua  Stecorarius skua  1
Parasitic (Arctic) Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 9
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 32
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 29
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 11
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 20
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 61
Guillemot Uria aalge 4
Large Gull sp. 1

Terrestrial Birds
Feral Pigeon Columba livia 3
Common Swift Apus apus 3
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 1

Other
Ocean Sunfish Mola mola 1

Watching weather forecasts prior to surveys in our non-existent summer here in the UK is not for the faint-hearted. However, the forecast for our trip was definitely for extremes, promising a slightly lumpy trip south on Saturday with the likelihood of good conditions in Biscay and also on the north bound leg on Monday - which turned out to be very accurate!

We arrived at the Brittany Ferries terminal just before 7:00 to be greeted by the cheerful staff and were checked in and on board in our cabins in no time. There was plenty of time for breakfast before departure and plenty of time to look out across the windswept harbour and contemplate what the seas might be like out in the Channel.

We were welcomed on the bridge by Captain Antoine Bienvenue as soon as we had cleared Poole bar and he explained that due to the strong winds our route would take us close in along the south coast before cutting across the Channel near Start Point and then keeping close to the French coast before going south between Ile d'Ouessant and the Brittany coast.

Balearic Shear 5

The sea state of 7-8 obviously made looking for cetaceans difficult, although we did manage an Ocean Sunfish a few miles west of Portland! It also looked as though the storm the previous week had pushed most of the birds out of the Channel too as there were relatively few birds until we hit the quieter seas inshore of Ile d'Ouessant where 3 Balearic Shearwaters were the highlight of the day. We left the bridge at 21:45 hoping that the following day would bring more clement conditions.

We were not disappointed! A calm sea and a sighting of dolphins from the cabins before we even got to the bridge was indicative of the excitement to come. Within 10 minutes of starting the survey we recorded our first Common Dolphins and in the next 4 hours we logged 20 groups of dolphins totalling over 600 animals, the largest group consisting of at least 250. A supporting cast of a Sperm Whale and 28 Bottlenose Dolphin meant we entered Santander on a high.

Common Dolphin Bow Ride The 3 hours in Santander gave an opportunity to rest in the sun (almost forgotten what it looks like!) and get ready for the return journey. Unfortunately a north-easterly wind had set in and the sea conditions weren't as kind as in the morning. Even so we still recorded 8 groups of Common Dolphins totalling over 400 animals, although given the nature of the course the ship takes it's entirely possible that some groups were the same as those seen in the morning.

With the long June day we actually made the northern shelf in daylight, unfortunately any hopes of seeing much were dampened, quite literally, by the heavy rain which set in for the last 2 hours of the survey. All was not lost though, in fading light, just as we were about to call it a day, we had a great view of a Fin Whale rolling just in front of the ship.

Le Four Lighthouse

We were treated to a fantastic sunrise over the Brittany coast the following morning and this set the scene for a very pleasant trip up the Channel. As we rounded the coast at the Le Four lighthouse we encountered more Balearic Shearwaters - 14 in all, it will be interesting to see if sightings continue now that the ship routinely sails through this channel.

Wall to wall blue skies and calm seas were much appreciated, although unfortunately the sightings couldn't quite do the conditions justice.

Careful scrutiny paid off with 6 Harbour Porpoise but there did seem to be a dearth of seabirds. The conditions showed off Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island at their best and couldn't have been more different to the conditions when we sailed on Saturday. 

We would like to thank Captain Bienvenue and the rest of the crew on the Cotentin for the warm welcome, it is always a pleasure carrying out this survey.

Peter Howlett and James McCarthy, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole - Santander ‘Cotentin’ 19th - 21st May 2012

Posted 23 May 2012

Maggie Gamble and Sue Lakeman, Research Surveyors for MARINElife 

Weather: Day 1: 1-5, variable cloud; Day 2: Southbound: 2-4 NW/WSW, intermittent light rain; Northbound: 6-8 NW, intermittent heavy rain; Day 3: 2-7, N/NW, misty;

Cetaceans
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 36
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 7
Pilot Whale (Long-finned) Globicephala melas 3
Unidentified Dolphin species 14
Unidentified Large Rorqual Whale 1

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 26
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 99
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 663
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 18
Great Skua  Stecorarius skua  3
Parasitic (Arctic) Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 100
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 6
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 12
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 17
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 30
Kittiwake Risa tridactyla 7
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis  48
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 25
Razorbill Alca torda 2
Unidentified shearwater species 7
Unidentified petrel species 3
Unidentified Cormorant or Shag 3
Unidentified large skua species 1
Unidentified large tern species 17
Unidentified auk species 32 

Terrestrial Birds
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 13
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 2
Feral Pigeon Columba livia 48
Unidentified small wader species 1

Other
Basking Shark  Cetorhinus maximus 1

We arrived at the Brittany Ferries office in Poole at 7 a.m. to be greeted by the friendly and efficient port team and were driven aboard the Cotentin for the crossing to Santander. Departure was prompt and we had good views of Poole Harbour & Brownsea Island from the viewing deck. After passing Poole Bar, we were welcomed by the very helpful officers and crew onto the Timonerie (the Bridge) to begin our survey.

Pointe Saint-MathieuA number of Swallows and Sandwich Terns accompanied the usual Gannets, auks and gulls and we had a smooth passage down the Channel. Harbour Porpoise sightings kept us busy as, thanks to the favourable tide, the Captain took a route close to the French coast. This took us between the mainland and the islands off the tip of Finistère and allowed good views of the numerous lighthouses along this stretch of rocky coast, including that at Pointe Saint-Mathieu with its signal station and ruins of an abbey.

Despite smooth seas and a beautiful sunset, the evening was quiet with few cetacean sightings. As this leg of the survey drew to a close, the crew spotted a Basking Shark off the port bow, close enough to give us good views as it opened its mouth and fed at the surface. As darkness fell and we prepared to leave the bridge, we were treated to one last tantalising glimpse of what appeared to be three spy-hopping Pilot Whales off the starboard side of the bridge. Frustratingly, they slipped back into the orange-tinged, glassy water and did not reappear.

After a good night's sleep in our comfortable cabins, we were up on the bridge at 5.30 a.m. to begin watch over the abyssal plain. The survey leg through to Santander treated us to Fulmar and Great Skua, distant views of dolphins busily feeding under circling gannets, and a pair of juvenile Collared Doves passing very close to the bridge.
Gannet by SL
We used the time in Santander to relax and bird-watch from the windows of the ship's restaurant and were ready for the return leg. However, increasingly choppy seas and grey skies made spotting challenging and the evening highlights were a single Common Dolphin arriving at the bow sub-surface and a large rorqual blow spotted in the distance to starboard. 

The Cotentin made light work of Biscay overnight and after a comfortable night we were back on watch at 5.30 a.m.  Initially, misty conditions were not ideal for sightings but we were entertained by a ringed racing pigeon which sheltered on the bridge superstructure before braving the world once again and an Arctic Skua passing close in front of the bridge. Visibility improved as we sailed north and we spotted a number of Yellow-legged Gulls close to the French coast as we sailed round Brittany and into the Channel.


As we approached Poole Bar once more, we said our thanks and goodbyes to the officers and crew, who as ever, had been very welcoming and helpful. We were met promptly by the port team who escorted us off the Cotentin and back to the terminal, where we headed for home after an enjoyable trip.

Maggie Gamble and Sue Lakeman, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 21 - 23 April 2012

Posted 25 April 2012

Adrian Shephard and Philip Dutt, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: Southbound: W-NW 2-6; Northbound: NW 5-2

Cetacean Recorded
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis  337
Striped Dolphin Stenella Coeruleoalba 19
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 2
Unidentified Dolphin species 20
Unidentified Large Rorqual Whale 2
Cuvier's Beaked Whale (Dead) Ziphius cavirostris 1

Seabirds Recorded
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 32
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 30
Gannet Morus bassanus 258
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 25
Long-Tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus 1
Yellow-Legged Gull Larus michahellis 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 12
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Little Gull Larus minutus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 21
Little Tern Sterna albifrons  33
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 219
Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 48
Razorbill Alca torda 3
Unidentified Auk Species 3
Unidentified large Gull Species 59

Terrestrial Birds
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 4
House Martin Delichon urbicum 4
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 23
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava 1

After a warm welcome from the port team in Poole, we headed aboard the Cotentin for the crossing with a forecast of North Westerly winds force 5 - 6 for most of the crossing.

Sporadic sightings of Kittiwakes, Guillemots greeted us as we headed up the Channel before a largish feeding group of Gannets alerted us to a distant group of feeding dolphins. 

Manx Shearwaters flockSightings slowed as the wind increased and for the rest of the day we saw the occasional Manx Shearwater and Gannets. A single Little Gull made a welcome appearance before we turned the corner of France and headed into Northern Biscay where we encounter 3 small groups of Little Terns heading north.

We were on the bridge for 6am on day 2, but the whitecaps were still with us making viewing conditions less than perfect. A welcome croissant from the bridge team and a fleeting glimpse of a small group of Striped dolphin including a very small calf coming into bow ride brightened our morning which was followed a while later by a similar sized group of Common Dolphin. We docked in Santander and got some rest before departing for the trip back.

Striped Dolphin 2We were on the bridge for 6am on day 2, but the whitecaps were still with us making viewing conditions less than perfect. A welcome croissant from the bridge team and a fleeting glimpse of a small group of Striped dolphin including a very small calf coming into bow ride brightened our morning which was followed a while later by a similar sized group of Common Dolphin. We docked in Santander and got some rest before departing for the trip back.

We headed out of the pretty port of Santander and back into a north westerly wind, but this gradually eased back as the afternoon progressed. As we entered deeper waters, we started encountering small groups of Common Dolphins racing into bow ride the ship, delighting us and the crew. Further groups followed including one group with at least one Striped Dolphin. A single large Rorqual whale blow was seen, but no body observed to give a positive identification.

Starting again at 6am, some of the overnight swell had sub-sided, but we still faced a many whitecaps. An early group of 3 Common Dolphin coming into bow ride was later followed by several passages of Swallows and 'Commic' Terns. Mid-morning, Philip picked up an animal moving sub-surface towards the ship which was shortly followed by a second animal. This second animal surfaced revealing the white and grey scarred body of a Risso's Dolphin.

The remainder of the trip saw several Great Skua's amongst other seabirds and a Yellow Wagtail hitching a ride on the bow.

As we neared Poole, we thanked the bridge team who are always very welcoming, and later left the ship and headed for home.

Adrian Shephard and Philip Dutt, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 17 - 19 March 2012

Posted 23 March 2012

Mike bamford and Robbie Hawkins, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: Southbound: WSW 6-7; Northbound: N 3-8

Cetacean Recorded
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis  37
Striped Dolphin Stenella Coeruleoalba 2
Unidentified Dolphin species 2

Seabirds Recorded
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 75
Gannet Morus bassanus 265
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 4
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 12
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 21
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 8
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 8
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 49
Guillemot Uria aalge 137
Razorbill Alca torda 17
Unidentified Auk Species 47
Unidentified large Gull Species 14

Other
Sun Fish Mola mola 1

We were escorted to the ship by the very efficient and helpful terminal staff, and set off just after 8 a.m. We were met by a freshening WSW breeze, which reached force 6-7, with associated sea states.

Sunfish

Setting off we saw scattered groups of migrating passerine birds, including some probable finches and pipits.  As the ship got further into the western Channel, we were approached by a couple of fast moving pods of Common Dolphin.

It became clear we were taking a route close to the French coast and as sunset approached we saw the many lighthouses off the Isle of Ushant (Oessant). The bridge team negotiated the channel between the Island and the mainland. Sunset was at 18.20, and we planned for an early night in view of the early rise the following day.

The sea remained lumpy overnight with an increasing 2-3 m swell the following day, and with continuing strong winds, our ability to detect sea mammals was restricted to brief views close to the ship, including probable Striped Dolphins. An additional unexpected sighting was a Sunfish which obviously hadn't seen the weather! 

Lighthouse Kereon

In Santander there was a little more shelter from the wind - we had a brief look at the park to the east of the port (south of the railway terminus) where we saw Blackcaps, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaffs plus a White Wagtail. This patch has a potential for more migrants in favourable conditions amid the slightly unusual habitat of Pampas grass and Eucalyptus.

Rejoining the ship, the wind stayed brisk with a marked swell, which limited viewing. The ship's movement gradually settled overnight and we rejoined the bridge in a clear dawn, as we once again we  approached the Ushant channel, with excellent views of the Lighthouses Kereon and Jument, made famous in the dramatic posters by Jean Guichard.

The sea calmed with a northerly breeze, and once again we had some brief visits by small groups of Common Dolphin. Seabirds included an increasing numbers of Auks, some coming into breeding plumage, and a large flock of loafing Fulmars. Once again we noted some migrating passerines including Redstart and Skylarks.

Thanking the bridge team, we left the ship with the assistance of the terminal staff.

Mike Bamford and Robbie Hawkins, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 18 - 20 February 2012

Posted 21 February 2012

Stephen Dunstan and Hugh Cairns, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: Southbound: SW 7-9; Northbound: SW 2-4

Cetacean Recorded
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis  31
Unidentified Dolphin species 2
Unidentified Large rorqual species 1

Seabirds Recorded
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 42
Gannet Morus bassanus 515
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 6
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 11
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 13
Yellow-Legged Gull Larus michahellis 38
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 23
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Little Gull Larus minutus 1
Red-Throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 8
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 82
Guillemot Uria aalge 64
Razorbill Alca torda 56
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra  8   
Unidentified Auk Species 6
Unidentified small Gull Species c650
Unidentified large Gull Species 5

We were checked in by welcoming Brittany Ferries staff and soon transferred onto the ship.  We headed onto deck whilst we waiting to go on the bridge and scanned Brownsea Island lagoon as we passed.  Here we were very pleased to pick out a Spoonbill feeding among more regular birds, a good record at any time but particularly in winter.

We saw four groups of Common Dolphins before the weather closed in mid afternoon.  All of these came in to bow ride, offering excellent views.  A good variety of seabirds was also seen before mist and rain stopped play, latterly including several Great Skua to add to the auks, gulls, Gannets and Fulmars. All in all, a good return for the Channel in February. 

Common Dolphin 5Sunday saw calmer conditions than Saturday so we were hopeful of something good.  We weren't to be disappointed as a large whale surfaced quite close to the ship.  Unfortunately it was probably spooked by the close encounter and didn't resurface in view, but it was almost certainly a Fin Whale.  Birds wise we added Common Scoter to the trip list, a surprise so far off the coast.

We wandered around Santander before returning to the ship. As we edged away from port we did see the only Mediterranean Gull and Sandwich Terns of the trip.  As we resumed the survey a few Yellow-legged Gulls were seen near the coast, even better an adult Little Gull was seen deep into the Bay of Biscay, reflecting the pelagic habits of this tiny gull in winter.  A couple of Common Dolphins were also seen before sunset.

Our final day began with the calmest conditions of the trip and we were optimistic of dolphins and porpoises.  We did indeed see several more pods of Common Dolphin coming in to the bow, but porpoises eluded us before the wind picked up a little and that was that.  Seabirds were generally similar to other days, but included very large groups of Gannet and several hundred presumed gulls distantly around fishing boats.  It was very quiet nearing Poole again but persistence was rewarded with a Red-throated Diver and the only Common Gull if the survey.

Thanks to Brittany Ferries and particularly the crew of the Cotentin for terrific hospitality as usual.

Stephen Dunstan and Hugh Cairns, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 21 - 23 January 2012

Posted 26 January 2012

Russell Neave and Emma Webb Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: Southbound: W 3-8; Northbound: NW 2-5

Cetacean Recorded
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis  71
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 8
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 6
Unidentified Dolphin species 4
Unidentified Large rorqual species 1
Unidentified Small cetacean species 2

Seabirds Recorded
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 14
Gannet Morus bassanus 173
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 10
Mediterranean Gull Larus  1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 7
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 65
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis
Guillemot Uria aalge 116
Razorbill Alca torda 29
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 
Unidentified Auk Species 26
Unidentified Gull Species 2

We arrived at the freight office at 07:00 and were promptly checked in by the staff and taken to the vessel.  Once we were settled in and clear of the coast we were escorted to the bridge and warmly welcomed by the Captain and crew.  We then began our formal survey under rather grey damp clouds with brisk winds whipping up some white water, but the ship was very stable and this made for a comfortable crossing.  We were soon noting a good variety of seabirds including Gannet and Kittiwake which were enjoying the breeze as they arched over the waves and Guillemot bobbing about or shooting past like whirring missiles. Several sightings of Great Skua, or Bonxie to give it its' colloquial name, added to the interesting birdlife.

Great Skua 1Our first cetaceans of the day were two Common Dolphin powering in towards the boat, always good to see. Several more sightings of this species punctuated the afternoon as we passed between Roscoff on the mainland and the Ile de Batz.

The following morning we awoke well into southern Biscay and the sea had calmed, looking very promising for some good sightings, we were not disappointed. First was a pod of four Striped Dolphin, ever active as they headed in towards the bow. Next, a group of four Cuvier's Beaked Whale, moving slowly at the surface, perhaps after one of their long deep dives; a key species we're always hoping to see in the canyon areas off the north Spanish coast.

More frustrating was a brief view of two small dorsal fins, possibly belonging to small beaked whales, perhaps Sowerby's Beaked Whale, another rare and enigmatic species occasionally recorded in theses waters. At about the same time a large rorqual whale blow was seen some way off, probably a Fin Whale, but too distant to confirm. A few Common Dolphin were recorded as we headed into Santander.

Striped Dolphin 3After stretching our legs with a stroll along the promenade in Santander and sightings of some local Yellow-legged Gull and a smart moulting Black-necked Grebe as it dived about just off the quay wall, we headed back aboard for the return.

We had just over an hour of daylight northbound, but with calm seas we were confident we'd see something. The only bird of note was a smart adult winter Mediterranean Gull, looking ghostly pale against the dark sea. Then, right on queue, at almost the same point at 2000m depth as the morning sighting, four Cuvier's Beaked Whale surfaced and moved slowly away from the vessel, giving good, if rather distant views, the same group as in the morning?  The day ended with two playful Striped Dolphin which came down the port side and we watched them leaping and splashing about in our wake waves.

Our final watch started with the bridge crew eagerly informing us we had just missed twenty Common Dolphin coming into the bow, typical!  We had seen three alongside the vessel at breakfast, probably some of the same group.  Still, as we came in towards Roscoff we recorded another three as they came bounding into the bow.  As we headed across the Channel towards Poole, with calm seas and some sunshine, we were hopeful of a sighting of the diminutive Harbour Porpoise, but it was not to be. Plenty of birds kept us busy, with lots of Guillemot and we recorded our only Puffin of the trip. Our last cetacean sighting was mid-channel, a pod of about twenty Common Dolphin feeding with attendant Gannets diving around them, a proper feeding frenzy.

We headed into Poole, were chauffeured through customs and were soon on our way having greatly enjoyed our re-acquaintance with the Bay of Biscay and a reminder of what an important area it is for marine wildlife. Once again our thanks go to the staff and crew of the Cotentin who made this a very enjoyable crossing.

Russell Neaveand Emma Webb, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 17 - 19 December 2011

Posted 21 December 2011

Richard Price and Tim Balmer Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: Southbound: NW 4-6; Northbound: W 3-5

Cetaceans
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 25
Unidentified Dolphin Sp. 2

Seabirds
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 6
Gannet Morus bassanus 9
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 5
Mediterranean Gull Larus malanocephalus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 20
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 29
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 121
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 93
Unidentified Auk Species 5
Unidentified Large Gull Species 3
Unidentified Small Gull Species 3

Terrestrial Birds
Osprey Pandion haliaetus 1

Departure was prompt, and after leaving the harbour we were welcomed by the very helpful crew.

As we sailed down the Channel, numbers of the more coastal seabirds such as the Black-backed and Herring gulls decreased, while sightings of species such as the hansom Kittiwake, Great Skua and Guillemot became more frequent. 

Great Skua 3

The cetacean watching was a little frustrating, as despite good light conditions the wind ruffled the water causing tiny whitecaps which made viewing of Harbour Porpoises challenging.  We know Harbour Porpoises can frequently be seen on this route, but their tiny size and undemonstrative behaviour make them difficult to spot unless the sea is mirror calm.

Due to the limited daylight hours at this time of year, it wasn't long before we had to draw our observations for the day to a close. The next morning, dramatic cloud formations meant we were treated to a superb sunrise. Again, we were soon recording a gentle trickle of seabirds, with Fulmars and a Mediterranean Gull also adding to the mix.

Whilst in Santander harbour, we encountered the avian highlight of our trip, an Osprey. It was certainly a great sight to see this magnificent raptor successfully catch a fish relatively close to the ship, before taking its prey out of view.

Our final day saw us take a route close to the Brittany Coast, past Roscoff before picking our way through the Channel Islands to cross straight into Poole. 

Common Dolphin with calf 3

The Channel Islands appeared to be quite productive, with many seabirds here, including a couple of drab looking Puffins in their winter plumage as well as Common dolphins. This larger cetacean is more obvious to us especially when they energetically approach the ship leaping and turning to bow ride. It is always exciting to see these charismatic animals so close to the ship and mothers with small calves by their side made this encounter even more rewarding.

Once again our thanks go to the staff and crew of the Cotentin who made this a very enjoyable crossing.

 

Richard Price and Tim Balmer, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 19 - 21 November 2011

Posted 24 November 2011

Rick Morris and Gareth Bradbury Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: Southbound: SE-SSE 3-5; Northbound: SE-ESE 2-4

Cetaceans
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 108
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 7
Unidentified Dolphin Sp. 8

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 2
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 250
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 85
Parasitic (Arctic) Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Common Gull Larus canus 2
Mediterranean Gull Larus malanocephalus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 2
Yellow Legged Gull Larus michahellis 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 19
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 85
Little Gull Larus minutus 3
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 99
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 21
Razorbill Alca torda 12
Unidentified Auk Species 11
Unidentified Large Gull Species 123
Unidentified Small Gull Species 1
Unidentified Shearwater species 1
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 1

Terrestrial Birds
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 1
Short Eared Owl Asio flammeus 1
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 43
Woodcock Scolopax rusticola 1
Blackbird Turdus merula 2
Passerines 2
Unidentified Finch sp. 18

The Brittany Ferries Staff at the Poole Terminal were, as usual, extremely helpful in getting us on board for the early (7 am) start. Crossing Poole harbour, we had excellent views of Spoonbills in the lagoon on the starboard side, together with other waders, and a Black-Necked Grebe, with Brent Geese surfing at the Harbour entrance.

We were welcomed to the bridge as we left the harbour, but had to wait until midday for the first group of Common Dolphins to come to the ship, and thereafter we had more distant views of a couple of Bottlenose Dolphins, and two further groups of Common Dolphins close to the vessel. A distant view of 4 lethargic animals, suggested possible Risso's Dolphins, but distance precluded confirmation. A steady trickle of the usual birds was seen, but it was already noticeable that there were exceptional numbers of Great Skuas (Bonxies) evident. We lost light after 4.30pm, and were able to have an early night, to catch up on lost sleep.

Common Dolphin 1Great Skua 3

At first light we found ourselves in Southern Biscay but the cetaceans were not obliging on this trip. Notable birds included Little Gulls, Arctic Skua and Balearic Shearwater, a species we study in the Channel. After a walk around a park area in Santander where we encountered Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and heard Cetti's warbler we headed back on board for the return crossing.

Overnight the sea state had settled to 2 and by morning we had reached the Channel, just off northern Brittany. Migrant birds were evident, including a flock of 40 Starlings, and a Short Eared Owl flying high back towards land. We were startled by a Woodcock which appeared suddenly, like a large bat, possibly having roosted on board.

We were surprised and pleased to see a pod of 6 adult and 1 young Long-Finned Pilot Whales just to starboard of the ship, and thereafter we had frequent groups of Common Dolphins in various behaviour modes, feeding, bow-riding and swimming leisurely, a total of 93 in all. We also had glimpses of a couple of Harbour Porpoises.

Balearic Shear 3Pilot Whale 1

Great Skuas kept coming in exceptional numbers, at times threatening to exceed Gannets.  A group of 16 together on and above the water, around a feeding Harbour porpoise was very unusual.

 An altogether enjoyable and interesting trip and we were very grateful for the hospitality and interest of the crew of the Cotentin.

Michael Bamford and Sean Minns, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 15 - 17 October 2011

Posted 20 October 2011

Rick Morris and Gareth Bradbury Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: Southbound: SE-SW 1-3; Northbound: NE-SW 3-5

Cetaceans
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 2
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 501
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 12
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 30
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 4
Large Rorqual sp. 2
Unidentified Blackfish sp. 1
Unidentified Dolphin Sp. 60

Seabirds
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 41
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea 1
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 37
European Storm-petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 35
Gannet Morus bassanus 498
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 8
European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 12
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 26
Parasitic (Arctic) Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 3
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 36
Common Gull Larus canus 4
Mediterranean Gull Larus malanocephalus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 323
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 22
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 31
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 7
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 1
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 14
Unidentified Auk Species 6
Unidentified Gull Species 338
Unidentified Skua species 1

Terrestrial Birds
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs 1
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba 7
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 15
Feral Pigeon Columba livia 1
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 6
Chiffchaf Phylloscopus collybita 1
Robin Turdus migratorius 1
Short Eared Owl Asio flammeus 1
Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis 1
Passerines 22
Unidentified Duck sp. 2
Unidentified Wagtail sp.1
Unidentified Eared Owl sp. 1

We boarded our research vessel the MV Cotentin just after 07:00, on a bright and warm Saturday October morning. After being greeted on board we put our kit in our cabins and went down to the restaurant for a hearty breakfast before making our way up to the bridge ready for departure at 08:00. It was good to see the regular crew again; we exchanged greetings and began to set up on the starboard side ready for departure.

Common Dolphin 5Leaving Poole harbour we observed good numbers birds including a number of little Egrets on Brownsea Island. Heading out into open water we started recording various sea birds, then just after midday we had our first cetacean encounter, a group of ten Common Dolphins, their position given away by Gannets circling overhead. More Common Dolphins and a Harbour Porpoise were observed through the afternoon followed by a lively pod of Bottlenose Dolphin. We came down from the bridge at dusk and upon entering our cabins, looked out of the window to watch a group of Common Dolphins come in to bow ride, followed by another group just before dinner.

 

 

Day two gave us a beautiful sunrise and a sea state of one, our expectations were high! Our first cetaceans of the day came at 07:30 a group of eighteen adults and two juvenile Common Dolphins followed by fifty unidentified Dolphin sp. and an unidentified possible Rorqual Whale logging in the distance.

Striped Dolphin 3

As the day progressed we encountered a pod of twelve Striped Dolphins, more Common Dolphins including a large pod of three hundred and fifty which were making light work of a bait ball, two Cuvier's beaked whales and an unidentified black fish!

A short eared owl performed a fly by just before arriving in a very warm and sunny Santander.

The return journey saw the weather deteriorate gradually making it more difficult to spot cetaceans although one Harbour porpoise was seen and a few Lions mane jellyfish.

We observed a Chinook helicopter practising retrieving a SBS speedboat just off Old Harry Rocks, before making the turn into port and recording a few more sea birds.

We thanked the crew and said farewell as we left the bridge to make ready for disembarkation.

 

Rick Morris and Gareth Bradbury, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 17 - 19 September 2011

Posted 20 September 2011

Simon Hartill and Sean Minns, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 7

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 82
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea 344
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 1235
Little Shearwater Puffinus baroli 8
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 24
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 43
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 8
European Storm-petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 31
Gannet Morus bassanus 730
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra  2
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 44
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 10
Long-Tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus 2
Yellow-legged Gull Larus cachinnans 22
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 8
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Sabine's Gull Larus sabini 7
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 13
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 9
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 1
Black Tern Chlidonias niger  4
Puffin Fratercula arctica  11
Guillemot Uria aalge 1

Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe 1
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita 1

We departed on time at 08:00 from Poole in windy overcast conditions, the forecast was not looking good for cetacean sightings, 30mph winds in the Channel and worse further west!

Good views of the Brownsea Island scrape in Poole harbour from the outside deck, at least 60 Avocets, 15 Little Egrets and what looked like some Spoonbills roosting. Good numbers of terns and waders on the large scrape were also seen. We admired the expensive real estate as we passed Sandbanks, home to the rich and famous!! 

Gannet ad 1


The views from the ship of the Jurassic coastline of Dorset from Old Harry Rocks to Portland are always impressive. Good numbers of gannets and some Storm Petrels were seen in the Channel.

Unfortunately, the sea state got steadily worse as we travelled further west into the Channel.

On Sunday morning we awoke to calmer conditions in southern Biscay but still not great, sea state 3-6.   However, this made for some fantastic close seabird sightings, including some more unusual birds with 1235 Great Shearwaters, 344 Corys, 8 Little Shearwaters, 42 Sooty Shearwaters, some Manx and 8 Balearic Shearwaters seen.

 

Corys Shearwater 2Sooty Shearwater 1

We had 3 hours ashore in the beautiful old city of Santander, unfortunately we had torrential rain halfway walking back to the ship but managed to buy some Spanish Rioja wine, cheese and honey to keep the family back home happy with presents!

Common Dolphin 1


The return journey was similarly good for seabirds but far too rough to see, let alone identify any cetaceans.

Luckily the weather was better in the Channel next day and we managed 7 Common Dolphins that came into the bow. Arriving back into Poole harbour, the Spoonbills on the Brownsea Island scrape were still present, fast asleep as they usually are! 

An excellent trip for rare seabirds, but well below par for cetaceans. This was not unexpected due to the adverse weather conditions.

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 20 - 22 August 2011

Posted 25 August 2011

Stephen Dunstan and Diederik Dherte, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 4
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 3
Large Rorqual sp. 2
Sperm Whale Physeter macrocephalus 1
Northern Bottlenose Whale Hyperoodon ampullatus 4
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 3
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 249
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 36
Dolphin Sp. 5
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 78

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 157
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea 4
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 19
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 15
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 3
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 15
Small Shearwater Sp. 3 
European Storm-petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 51
Gannet Morus bassanus 1694
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 10
European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 59
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 11
Yellow-legged Gull Larus cachinnans 14
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 208
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 44
Sabine's Gull Larus sabini 5
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 2
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 1
Large Gull Sp. 57

 

We left Poole at 08h00 in good weather conditions: cloudy, but only a moderate wind and little waves so expectations were high - and they were met!

Soon after we left, the first Harbour Porpoises were seen. Early afternoon we spotted a very distant Minke Whale, and only a couple of minutes later, a second Minke surfaced quite close to the ship. Small groups of Bottlenose Dolphins were seen at several locations. As sunset began, a group of Common Dolphin joined the ferry to bow ride. Fabulous!

Minke 1Common Dolphin 1

The first day was also enlivened by three adult Sabines's Gulls and good numbers of Great Skua (47) and Fulmar (64). Further sightings included 4 Balearic and 6 Manx Shearwaters, 25 Storm-Petrels and 1000+ Gannets.

August is a great month in the Bay of Biscay, where we started the next day. Weather conditions were again excellent for observation: only a light wind and small waves.

The most spectacular sighting was a group of 4 Northern Bottlenose Whales that surfaced just in front of the ferry. Some groups of Common Dolphin (totaling 72 individuals) were seen as well as 3 Cuvier's Beaked Whales. Three Fin Whales were also recorded and two whale blows were left unidentified.

Cuviers 1Fin 1

When we left Santander, we were initially trapped in a dense fog bank which reduced visibility to less than 300m, but luckily it disappeared quickly. On the Northbound part of the trip a single Fin Whale and 19 Common Dolphin were added to the list. Some notable birds were seen including good sightings of Great Shearwater (15), Cory's Shearwater (2), Manx/Yelkouan Shearwater (3) and another stunning adult Sabine's Gull.

On the third day, back in the Channel, 30 more Common Dolphin were seen. Several small groups of Harbour Porpoise (totaling 22 individuals) were observed in calm seas. We noted a good number of seabirds as well, including 93 Fulmars, 11 Balearic Shearwaters, 4 Great Shearwaters, 2 Cory's Shearwaters, 3 Sooty Shearwaters and 9 Manx Shearwaters as well as another adult Sabine's Gull.

Our thanks go to all the bridge crew members who were extremely interested in the sightings during the survey.

Stephen Dunstan and Diederik Dherte, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 16 - 18 July 2011

Posted 20 July 2011

Maggie Gamble and Sharon Morris: MARINElife Research Surveyors
Weather: Southbound SW 3-6 with moderate swells. Northbound NW 3-7 with heavy swells. Visibility variable with patches of heavy rain.

Sperm Whale Physeter macrocephalus ~4 (blows only)
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 1
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 14 (including 1 juvenile & 1 calf)
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 3
Unidentified Dolphin Species 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 10
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 1
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 38
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea 31
European Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 150
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 14
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 36
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 4
Common Tern Sterna hirundo  3

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 18 - 23 June 2011

Posted 23 June 2011

Adrian Shephard and James Darke, MARINElife Research Surveyors
Weather: Southbound WSW-W 2-5 with heavy swells. Northbound W-SW 1-5 with moderate swells.

Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 1
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 12
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 2
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 215
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 17
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3
Unidentified Dolphin Species 15
Unidentified Small Whale Species 1

Ocean Sunfish Mola mola 2
Unidentified Shark Species 2

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 73
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 38
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea 4
European Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 751
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 56
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 36
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
'Commic Tern' Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 2
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 7
Unidentified large gull species 1
Unidentified Shearwater species 1

Racing Pigeon Columba livia 5

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 21 - 23 May 2011

Posted 24 May 2011

Martin Gillingham, Simon Boswell, MARINElife Research Surveyors
Weather: Southbound S-N 2-5. Northbound N-SSW 1-7 with a very large swell in northern Biscay

Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 1
Sperm Whale Physeter macrocephalus 1
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 12
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 70
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 181
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 33
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 15
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 1
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 1
European Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 53
Gannet Morus bassanus 394
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 4
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 55
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 2
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 7
'Commic Tern' Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 26
Guillemot Uria aalge 20
Razorbill Alca torda 1
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1

Feral Pigeon Columba livia 31
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 6
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 2
Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur 3
House Martin Delichon urbica 2
Unidentified pipit species 1

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 16 - 18 April 2011

Posted 19 April 2011

Darren Fanner, John Down, MARINElife Research Surveyors
Weather: Southbound SW-NNE 0-4 in Channel, E 3-4 in Biscay. Northbound NE 3-6 in Biscay, ENE 2-4 in Channel

Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 3
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 22
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 18
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Unidentified large Rorqual species 4
Unidentified Dolphin Species 6

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 43+
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 4
Gannet Morus bassanus 475+
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 7
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 17
Parasitic (Arctic) Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 2
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 4
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 26
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 4
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 6
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 64
Puffin Fratercula arctica 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 115
Razorbill Alca torda 6
Unidentified Tern Species 20
Unidentified Auk Species 60
Unidentified Gull Species 112+

Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 1
Unidentified small Wader Species 2
Eurasian Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 2
Common Swift Apus apus 1
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 3
Unidentified Hirundine Species 1

 

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 19 - 21 March 2011

Posted 22 March 2011

Mike Bailey, Philip Dutt, MARINElife Research Surveyors
Weather: Southbound SW 2-3 in Channel, 1-3 in Biscay. Northbound NE 3-4 in Biscay, 0-2 in Channel

Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 1
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 5
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 27
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 57
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 8
Unidentified small whale species 1

Ocean Sunfish Mola mola 1

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 61
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 870
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 13
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 2
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 18
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 4
Common Gull Larus canus 2
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 53
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 94
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 7
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 53
Little Gull Larus minutus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 64
Little Auk Alle alle 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 634
Razorbill Alca torda 27
Unidentified Auk species 68
Unidentified Black-backed gull species 7
Unidentified large gull species 439
Unidentified small gull species 7

Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 1
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 1
Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus 1
Robin Erithacus rubecula 4
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 5
Starling Sturnus vulgaris  5
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 6
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus 1
Unidentified wader species 4
Unidentified pipit species 4
Unidentified wagtail species 3
Unidentified phylloscopus warbler species 1
Unidentified warbler species 1
Unidentified passerine species 17

Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus 1 (soaring over Santander harbour)

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 19 - 21 February 2011

Posted 24 February 2011

Peter Howlett, Joe O'Hanlon, MARINElife Research Surveyors

Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 78
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 4
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 115
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 30

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 21
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 504
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 41
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 25
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 7
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 21
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 11
Little Gull Larus minutus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 163
Guillemot Uria aalge 71
Razorbill Alca torda 221
Unientified Auk Species 142
Unidentified large Gull Species 103

Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 1

MARINElife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 15 - 17 January 2011

Posted 18 January 2011

Michael Bamford, Durwyn Liley, MARINElife Research Surveyors

Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 2 (probable)
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 3 (probable)
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 140

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 145
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 17
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 6
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 4
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 80
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 84
Razorbill Alca torda 106
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 3
Unidentified Auk Species 27
Unidentified Gull Species 150

Marinelife Survey Report: Poole-Santander 'Cotentin' 16 - 18 January 2010

Posted 19 January 2010

Peter Howlett, David Chilcott, MARINElife Research Surveyors
Weather: Southbound SW-W 6-7, large swell, especially in western Channel, SE 2 in Biscay. Northbound E 2 with large swell in Biscay, SSW 2 in Channel

Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 6
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 12
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 250
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Unidentified Dolphin species 12

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 4
Gannet Morus bassanus 122
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 16
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 5
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 18
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 8
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 45
Guillemot Uria aalge 68
Razorbill Alca torda 37
Unidentified Petrel species 1
Unidentified Auk species 100

Most of the Short-beaked Common Dolphin were seen in the Channel south of Start Point, including one spread out group of 130 animals.