Sightings Archives: May 2013

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

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