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