Sightings Archives: July 2012

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

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

Basking Shark Cetorhinus maximus 1
Leatherback Turtle Dermochelys coriacea 1

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

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.