Sightings Archives: August 2013

MARINElife Survey Report: Brittany Ferries Freight ‘Cotentin’ Poole-Santander survey 17-19 August 2013

Posted 23 August 2013

Carol Farmer-Wright and Emma Howe-Andrews, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Day 1: wind 7-8; intermittent sunshine, showers and fog; visibility poor to good; sea state variable 4-7
Day 2: wind 4-5; sunny; visibility good to excellent; sea state variable 2-4
Day 3: wind 3-4; sunny; visibility excellent; sea state variable 2-4

Summary of species recorded:
Marine Mammals

Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 42
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 111
Cuviers Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 1 (possible)
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 35
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 14
Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 8
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 30
Tuna sp. Thunnus sp 8
Unidentified whale sp. 1 (distant breaching)

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 314
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea 21
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 13
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 5
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 1
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 1377
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 3
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 5
Long-tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 6
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Black Tern Chlidonias niger 4
Razorbill Alca torda 1
Unidentified Larus sp. 30
Unidentified Tern sp. 2

Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus

Day 1: We were warmly welcomed onboard the Cotentin by the Captain and crew and shown to the bridge to begin our survey. With a prompt departure, the crew skilfully manoeuvred the ship through Poole Harbour and out into the English Channel. The good weather quickly deteriorated with intermittent heavy rain showers that reduced visibility, giving occasional fog patches and increasing the sea state to 7 for a time.

This didn't dampen our spirits as we enjoyed views of Fulmar, Gannet, Great Skua and Razorbill. Unfortunately, no cetaceans were spotted, but we remained hopefully as we approached the north part of the Bay of Biscay at sunset and settled down into our bunks for a good night sleep.

fin 3bDay 2: We awoke to a beautiful sunrise as we approached the canyon and abyssal plain area of Biscay and were thankful that the sea state had reduced to 3 and with good visibility; it was a relief to see a bit of sunshine! It was a little quiet, when all of a sudden the cetaceans sightings started to happen in quick succession. We observed numerous blows and an up close view of a pod of Striped Dolphin riding the wake of a large Fin Whale that had surfaced on the starboard side of the ship. Magnificent! Even the bridge crew joined us to have a look and their enthusiasm was infectious.

Fin Whale

The sightings continued with a possible Cuvier's Beaked Whale breaching, Pilot Whale, Bottlenose Dolphin and Fin Whale travelling north together and Common Dolphin approaching the ship to briefly bow ride before making their way portside. We even observed an unidentified whale breaching seven times on the horizon! The sighting that stopped all of us in our tracks (even the crew) was when four Pilot Whale were spotted 1000 metres ahead of the ship. As we drew closer, two of the animals broke off from the main group and approached the Cotentin, one in particular diving right next to the bow! This provided us with amazing views and also giving us the opportunity to confirm that it was the Long Finned type. For the remainder of the southbound transect to Santander, we observed shearwaters with occasional sightings of jumping and feeding Tuna. Wow!

Pilot Whale Adrian Shephard 04After a short stay in Santander and a delicious lunch in the onboard self-service restaurant, we headed back to the bridge to begin the northbound transect. With excellent visibility and sea states varying between 2 and 4 we started our journey back to the UK. Again, we were lucky to observe further Fin Whale, Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin feeding and leaping and the blows of an unidentified whale that one of the bridge Officers had spotted. Wonderful views of Great Shearwater, Black Tern and a Long-tailed Skua were enjoyed along the way.

Long-Finned Pilot Whale

Day 3: The final transect started on the bridge at 6.30am with a sea state 4 and a 2-3 metre swell, which we thought might reduce our chances of further cetaceans sightings, but we were wrong! Another amazing sunrise greeted us which some phenomenal cloud formations and as the ship continued its course, the sea state and wind dropped to create calmer conditions. Our first sighting of the day was six Common Dolphin and then several Harbour Porpoise. Later, we encountered a large pod of Common Dolphin that included Juveniles leaping and speeding down the starboard side of the ship. Brilliant!

Common Dolphin Peter Howlett 19Further into the channel, a small group of Bottlenose Dolphin were observed 500m ahead of the ship with the animals deciding to come in for a brief bow ride providing us with views of two very small calves! The final sightings of the day involved another group of approximately 30 Bottlenose Dolphin feeding with Gannets that had been following a fishing vessel along with other species of seabird. A solitary Harbour Porpoise was the last cetacean recorded and before we knew it, we were making our final approach towards our berth in Poole for an early arrival.

Common Dolphin


We would like to say a very big thank you to Brittany Ferries Freight for supporting our survey and to the Captain, Commondant Daniel Roignant, and crew of the Cotentin for making us feel so welcome and their keen interest in our work.

Carol Farmer-Wright and Emma Howe-Andrews, Research Surveyors for MARINElife