MARINElife Survey Report: Brittany Ferries ‘Cotentin’ Poole-Santander survey 21-22nd July 2013

Maggie Gamble and Carol Grieg, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: Outward: mainly good visibility with some glare, wind force 3-6 NNW.
Return: visibility poor to good with some fog, wind force 1-2 NNW.

Summary of species recorded:
Marine Mammals
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 1
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 4
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 5
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 4
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 30+
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 43+
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 10
Dolphin sp. 47+
Large Rorqual sp. 1
Large Whale sp. 1 (very distant blows)

Seabirds
Fulmer Fulmarus glacialis 17
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 71
Gannet Morus bassanus 375
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Common Gull Larus canus 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 27
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 32
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 20
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 1
Puffin Fratercula arctica 2
Shearwater sp. 10

Terrestrial Birds
Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur 1
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus

Striped Dolphin 4

Day 1. The Cotentin made very light work of the sea state 6 during day one of the southbound leg; though we could see small fishing boats having a much rougher ride. This was a very quiet section of the survey, no cetaceans were sighted and surprisingly few seabirds, mainly Gannet, gulls and Manx Shearwater. By sunset we had taken the middle route through the islands off Ushant and were approaching the northern Bay of Biscay.

Day two. Biscay  seemed almost empty of bird life, wherever they were feeding it wasn't around here! Cetaceans, however, were there to be seen in the almost perfect conditions. One small group of Striped Dolphin passed very close down the starboard side in their usual exuberant fashion! Common Dolphin were also seen, mainly in small groups, with some approaching for some sub-surface bow riding. A small whale and calf surface surfaced ahead of the ship, possibly a Minke as one of the bridge crew had seen a Minke and calf on a previous crossing.

Cuviers BW Carol Grieg 02In the canyon area we had great views of two pairs of Cuvier's Beaked Whale. The first pair surfaced 'in their usual manner' in front of the boat but then stayed on the surface down the starboard side allowing Carol to take pictures. The other pair seemed to be logging in the sunshine as they went down the port side.

A Fin Whale (at least one) was sighted by us and another large rorqual blow by the bridge crew and there were also some very distant blows on the horizon. They were being 'quiet' in their behaviour though - to my mind. Often you can see blows far in the distance and track the whale's approach towards the ship (hopefully) but these seemed to appear once and that was it.

Turtle Dove Carol Grieg 01Several hours away from the Spanish coast we noticed two doves making a determined effort to find a spot where they could perch, they finally managed it in the truck exit channel below the bridge. One was a Turtle Dove, the first I've seen for many years, such a shame they've become so rare In the UK.  They roosted there most of the way to Spain, until the hoisting of the flag ousted the stowaways.

Day 3. Dawned as we were nearing the Brest peninsular and this time we took the inner route between the islands. Once past the tide race conditions were perfect for spotting Harbour Porpoise and we counted ten feeding in the area.  Unfortunately a dense fog bank curtailed the survey slightly before time but we did manage to add Bottlenose Dolphin to the now very impressive list of species for the trip.

As ever our thanks go to Brittany Ferries and the captain and crew of the Cotentin for allowing us the privilege of surveying from the bridge and making us so welcome.

Maggie Gamble and Carol Grieg, Research Surveyors for MARINElife