Sightings Archives: July 2012

MARINElife Survey Report: Rosyth-Zeebrugge "Tor Finlandia" 15 - 17 July 2012

Posted 19 July 2012

Karen Dick, MARINElife Research Surveyor
Outbound: W-SW 5-6 sea state 4-5 Inbound: W-NW 3-9 sea state 6-1

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 11
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 5
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 9
Harbour/Common Seal Phoca vitulina 4

Plus 11 additional grey seals in the Forth Estuary after the termination of the survey.

Eider Somateria mollissima 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 79
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 109
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 10,032
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 6
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 13
Arctic "Parasitic" Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Black headed Gull 12
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 93
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 215
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 213
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 38
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 20
Puffin Fratercula arctica 219
Guillemot Uria aalge 179
Razorbill Alca torda 24
Unidentified Auk Species 6
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus 1

Terrestrial Birds
Swift Apus apus 2
Racing Pigeon 2


Seals on BuoyAlone for this trip, I arrived at Rosyth, ready for a midday departure and was made very welcome and given the chance to practice my Lithuanian "hello". As usual, the start of the journey through the outer Forth Estuary got off to a busy start, filled with a range of birds and the Grey and Common Seals that use the buoys to haul out on. The number of Gannets kept increasing as we neared Bass Rock. An hour or so later, after 5400 Gannets through the survey box and a small group of Harbour Porpoises, I thought I'd had enough excitement for one day.

The sea was rippled with plenty of whitecaps, making cetacean spotting a bit of a challenge, but down the coast, a pod of Common Dolphins seemed pleased to see the ship and dashed in for a quick bow-ride. Gannets and Kittiwakes kept me occupied all the way down to the Farne Islands, where it was predominantly adult Puffins on show, young Puffins were distinctly few and far between compared to the same time last year. Useful daylight ended at around 9.30pm with a stunning sunset of the kind that are particularly spectacular at sea. 

Daybreak on Day 2 was around 4.30am. By now the ship had reached the Lincolnshire coast and sea conditions were similar to Day 1, but bird numbers were far lower, which meant a fairly relaxing morning on duty. A Swift flying past the bridge was a highlight and the leg finished in Zeebrugge at around 11am, in heavy rain, so the decision to stay aboard was an easy one. This also meant I had the opportunity to meet the DFDS Operations Manager for the route, who makes this survey possible for us.

Gannet SquadronWeather conditions on leaving Zeebrugge were very similar to our British summer, so I felt right at home! We were to have a short period of high wind and swell, so I knew that cetacean spotting and birds would be difficult but was hoping for a Storm Petrel. No luck with that, but a Common Dolphin that did not want to be ignored gambolled round for a couple of minutes, doing full aerial leaps and diving into the breaking waves to make sure that I did not miss it!

As predicted, within a couple of hours, the conditions had settled to the same as the previous day, with the promise of even better conditions on Day 3. This was completely accurate and a quiet morning passed as we headed north. The Storm Petrel that I had hoped for appeared, but there was not too much excitement until a wonderful sighting of a Minke Whale made our day (mine and the crew on the bridge). The whale headed straight for the bow before heading south, and we watched as it moved slowly down the side of the ship and away into the distance. As we headed north, squadrons of gannets passed us, elegantly speeding their way to their nesting grounds, which was a lovely sight.

Ačiū - Thank you to the Captain and crew who made this a very enjoyable crossing, most especially for ensuring that my caffeine levels were regularly topped up with their local delicacy - espresso with condensed milk!

Karen Dick, Research Surveyor for MARINElife