Sightings Archives: June 2013

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

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

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