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