Recent Sightings

MARINElife Survey Report: DFDS Seaways 'Transpulp' Tilbury-Gothenburg 11-14 October 2014

Posted 23 October 2014

Cheryl Leaning and Helen Turnock, Research Surveyors for MARINElife


Outward - overcast with sunny spells, good visibility, sea state increasing from 1-5 as moved further out to sea, wind force 3-6

Return - overcast with some rain, sunny spells with glare at times, sea state increasing to 6 with swell height 1, wind force 1-6

Summary of species recorded

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3
Humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae 2
Unidentified Seal Sp 2
Unidentified Cetacean Sp 3

Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 143
Common Gull Larus canus 32
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 17
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 5
Eider Somateria mollissima 42
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 47
Gannet Morus bassanus 252
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 58
Great Skua Catharacta skua 10Guillemot Uria aalge 20
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 38
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 69
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 15
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 2
Parasitic (Arctic) Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 1
Unidentified Auk Sp 5
Unidentified Gull Sp 245

Terrestrial Birds
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 17
Canada Goose Branta canadensis 1
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 2
Dunlin Calidris alpina 34
Feral pigeon Columba livia 1
Great Tit Parus major 27
House Martin Delichon urbicum 7
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 5
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe 1
Robin Erithacus rubecula 1
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 4
Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus 4
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 41
Unidentified Duck Sp 18
Unidentified Goose Sp 158
Unidentified Passerine Sp 137
Unidentified Wader Sp 1

After heading out through the lock we made our way up to the bridge to begin the survey.

We were greeted by an array of gull species such as Herring, Common and Great Black-backed Gull with the most numerous being the Black-headed Gull. We also saw some less expected species such as Starling and Shelduck.

Kittiwake Helen Turnock 01

First year Kittiwake, Photo by Helen Turnock

Not long after returning to the bridge after a scrumptious dinner we had our first cetacean sighting, with a Harbour Porpoise coming into view.

The following day saw us recording numerous Gannet, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Guillemot, gulls of a variety of species and a mix of other species to maintain our interest. We made our way around the Danish coast from early afternoon and light faded as we reached Skörgen.

Day three brought a few surprises. As we were heading away from Gothenburg many passerine species appeared around the ship. We identified Wren, Robin and Great Tit. These species, not normally associated with migration in the UK, were on their way south and continued to circle the vessel for some time. We also had sightings of House Martin and Dunlin. Several Sparrowhawk and a solitary Kestrel were seen circling the vessel, almost certainly with an interest in our passerine stowaways!

Wren Helen Turnock 01

Wren, photo by Helen Turnock

We also had some more brief encounters with cetaceans. We thought they were possibly Minke Whale but after returning from the survey we shared our photos of the cetaceans with other members of the MARINElife team. After further analysis by the team, we concluded that there was a high possibility that they were actually two humpback whales! Although we didn't know this at the time, this was amazing to have seen this!

On the final day more Harbour Porpoise were spotted along with many more bird sightings. Gannet were especially numerous as well as more gulls and a few flocks of geese - unfortunately too far away to confirm identification - were sighted too. We concluded our survey as we made our way towards Tilbury. We thanked Captain Krister Brzezinski and his wonderful team for their hospitality before heading ashore.


Cheryl Leaning and Helen Turnock, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife blog: DFDS Seaways ‘Transpulp’ Tilbury-Gothenburg 13-16 September 2014

Posted 01 October 2014

Peter Howlett and Mike Bailey, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Wind mainly E to NE with some rain on the return leg. Sea state varying from 3 to 7 on both legs. Visibility mostly good overall with some glare and occasional fog patches

Summary of species recorded:

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena  6
Common Seal Phoca vitulina 1

Greylag Goose Anser anser 6
Teal Anas crecca 42
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula 2
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 11
Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca 2
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 3
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 358
Gannet Morus bassanus 110
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago 1
Dunlin Calidris alpina 7
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 36
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 10
Long-tailed Skua Stercorarius longicaudus 1
Sabine's Gull Xema sabini 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 9
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 5
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 43
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 9
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 20
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 26
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 156
Common Gull Larus canus 30
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 76
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 15
Guillemot Uria aalge 48
Puffin Fratercula arctica 1
Unidentified skua sp. 1
Unidentified Larus sp. 65
Unidentified tern sp. 1
Unidentified auk sp. 1
Unidentified wader sp. 1

Terrestrial birds
Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus 3
Merlin Falco columbarius 1
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus  3
Swallow Hirundo rustica 7
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe 2
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes 1
White Wagtail Motacilla alba 3
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis 1
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 21
Goldcrest Regulus regulus 1
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos 1
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs 42
Pipit sp. 3
Unidentified Acrocephalus warbler 1
Unidentified passerine sp. 101

Avian migration remains one of the great unsolved puzzles of modern science. We are only just beginning to understand some of the mysteries involved so the phenomenon of bird migration still generates a profound sense of awe and excitement amongst ornithologists. Most birders experience visible migration in spring and autumn on coastal headlands but to witness the spectacle from on board a ship, a hundred miles out into the North Sea, is a dramatic and thrilling experience. When birds from the high arctic tundra meet others from the Scandinavian mainland, all heading south and west towards the UK, the epic nature of their journeys soon becomes apparent. Add to this the dangers of marauding predators and hostile weather fronts and we had a recipe for a very memorable September MARINElife survey.

An intriguing combination of three converging high pressure systems over Scandinavia, along with a cold weather front sweeping across the North Sea from the near continent meant that birds leaving Norway to head south for the winter were being drifted off course by the stiff easterly airflow that had been in place for almost two weeks. The downside of this was that the sea state wasn't really conducive to cetacean-watching and during the whole survey we only managed to spot a total of six Harbour Porpoise. However, as we made our way out of the Thames estuary we soon began to encounter seabirds.

As we passed Southend pier and headed into the North Sea we found several Mediterranean Gull floating over the waves, Arctic Skua harassing Common Tern, and Fulmar and Gannet cruising by on the updrafts. Great Skua were much in evidence (36 amassed by the end of the survey), along with the usual mix of auks and gulls and just two porpoise to bid us goodnight at the end of the first day. As we woke on day two, half way across the North Sea, we encountered the first of the survey's notable birds: a delightful Long-tailed Skua. Breeding on the arctic and northern Scandinavian tundra, feeding primarily on Lemmings, these birds migrate south through the North Sea every year on their way to their wintering grounds off west Africa. They are guaranteed to set the pulse racing for any dedicated seawatcher who is lucky enough to encounter one flying past a UK headland. However, it wasn't the last species of bird from the high arctic we were to see…

Goldcrest Peter Howlett 01
Goldcrest, Photo by Peter Howlett

A day full of Gannet and Fulmar ensued, with increasing numbers of intermedius Lesser Black-backed Gull (a shade darker than our UK version but not quite as dark as the Baltic form), and the day closed with a flypast from a couple of wing-flashing Velvet Scoter. After a rapid turnaround in Gothenburg overnight, we were soon heading back towards the UK on the return leg, and the morning of day three brought with it plenty of excitement. Passing between Norway and Denmark means that the DFDS route is perfectly positioned to intercept birds migrating south. With foggy conditions, some light rain and a stiff easterly wind, the vessel became a very welcome shelter for the exhausted and disoriented birds, desperate to find somewhere dry to rest. Chaffinch and Meadow Pipit were the first species to join us, circling the bridge and flitting around the outer decks. A Goldcrest, one of the smallest species to be found in the UK, arrived on board, and to our surprise entered an open bridge window. The poor little sprite was cold, wet and presumably a little terrified of the bemused bridge crew who looked on in wonder. Pete has plenty of experience handling birds from many years as a bird ringer so we confidently rescued the tiny bird, dried and warmed it up, and released it back onto the outer decks, hopefully to continue its journey to the mainland. But amazingly this wasn't the only bird to make it inside. Somehow one of the Chaffinch managed to find its way onto the main accommodation deck and we eventually caught it in the TV room. As much as it may have wanted to watch a documentary in the driver's lounge we decided it was in the best interests of the bird to release it back outside!

However, fog, rain, wind, a sea crossing of several hundred miles, and this week's TV listings aren't the only dangers these little birds have to deal with. From out of the greyness above, a dark shadow swept over the ship like an Exocet missile, creating panic among the small hitch-hiking birds. A Sparrowhawk had arrived, and it proceeded to charge around the outer decks terrorising the finches and pipits. And then a second hawk appeared, effortlessly hanging in the updraft over the back deck as the passerines scattered beneath the two predators. And just when things couldn't get any worse for the smaller species, a third Sparrowhawk screeched over and we knew there had been at least one casualty as a lone feather fluttered by the bridge window; a symbolic reminder of the perils faced by migrating birds. But the Sparrowhawk is a migrating bird too, and without the sustenance secured by the larder of small birds they found on board maybe they too would have struggled to make it across the sea to land. Wheatear, Song Thrush, Swallow, Tree Pipit and even a Wren (yes, they can migrate too!) all made it onto the growing survey list, some of which were briefly pursued by yet another avian predator, a fine male Merlin.

Sparrowhawk Peter Howlett 01
Sparrowhawk, photo by Peter Howlett

A skein of Greylag Geese honked their way through the fog, a Common Snipe and a flock of Dunlin battled their way through the increasing winds and we observed plenty of small passerines flying overhead, many of which remained unidentified as they chose not to come close enough to enable us to make a positive ID.

Our final day, in contrast, was calm and serene as we made our way towards the Essex coast. But the highlight of the entire trip was still to come… As we approached the Thames estuary we spotted a group of Little Gull bobbing on the water ahead of the vessel. As we approached, we were able to see that one of the birds was clearly a little larger and as the group took flight the diagnostic triangular contrast between the black, white and plain brown wing of a superb juvenile Sabine's Gull were easily seen, eliminating the main confusion species of Kittiwake. This is a high arctic breeder, the closest population spending the summer on Svalbard, and whilst Pete and I have had plenty of experience with 'Sabs' over the years, in a wide variety of countries, a sighting in UK waters is always a real treat. And it provided a stunning end to our survey.

Sabines Gull Peter Howlett 01
Sabine's Gull, Archive photo by Peter Howlett

The combination of a delightful ship's crew, extremely interested passengers, high arctic wanderers, little lost passerines and supreme aerial predation from the Sparrowhawks made this a survey to remember. With the support of DFDS we have been able to witness and record at-sea migration in action. It is hoped that this type of valuable data will one day add to our understanding of bird migration and eventually help us to solve the ultimate mystery of how birds manage to achieve such incredible feats of navigation and endurance.


Peter Howlett and Mike Bailey, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife blog: DFDS Seaways ‘Transpulp’ Tilbury-Gothenburg 23-26 August 2014

Posted 03 September 2014

Carol Farmer-Wright and Maggie Gamble, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Weather: Wind mainly NW to SW with some rain and a sea state varying from 2 to 8 on the outward leg and 6 to 1 on the return leg. Mostly good visibility overall with some glare.

Summary of species recorded

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise  Phocoena phocoena 28
Grey Seal  Halichoerus grypus 3
Common Seal  Phoca vitulina 1


Common Scoter  Melanitta nigra 37
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 1198
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2
Gannet  Morus bassanus 264
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 5
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 38
Arctic Skua  Stercorarius parasiticus 8
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 2
Black-headed Gull  Chroicocephalus ridibundus 60
Common Gull  Larus canus 8
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 11
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 170
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 81
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 13
Sandwich Tern  Sterna  sandvicensis 19
Common Tern  Sterna  hirundo 92
'Commic' Tern  Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 9
Guillemot Uria aalge 226
Unidentified auk Species (Razorbill/Guillemot)  70
Skua sp.  11
Gull sp.  59
Tern sp.  15
Black-backed gull sp.  24

Terrestrial Birds

Feral Pigeon Columba livia 8
Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus 1
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa 1
Curlew Numenius arquata 10
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus 1
Oystercatcher  Haematopus ostralegus 26
Shelduck  Tadorna tadorna 2
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos 1
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 44
Swallow  Hirundo rustica 5
Warbler sp.  1

Small passerine 1
Wader sp. 102

After an early drive we were soon escorted aboard the Transpulp (in time for a welcome brunch) which sailed at midday and once clear of the dock we were invited on to the bridge to begin surveying.

Great Skua Peter Howlett 01

Great Skua (Archive Photo: Peter Howlett)

As the estuary widened 4 Harbour Porpoise were spotted as well as a few "bottling" Common and Grey Seals. Also seen were a few Common and Sandwich Terns. At this time of year we were hoping to see plenty of skuas during the survey and we weren't disappointed! We quickly added an initial 7 skuas, comprising of all three expected species (Great, Pomarine and Arctic) soon after leaving the Thames Estuary. These are such exciting birds to watch particularly when they are pursuing a potential victim for its catch. Their quarry however are also often fantastic flyers so the outcome is by no means a foregone conclusion!  For the remainder of the day we recorded groups of Gannet, Fulmar, Black-backed Gulls and a few Common Scoter.

Day two of the survey and survey conditions were more challenging. It was a day dominated by Fulmars, who seemed to be everywhere in low concentration riding the air currents above the sizable waves with skill and élan. Gannets of all ages were also around plus a few Great Skua - one of which tried hazing a Fulmar, but was firmly repulsed by it and another nearby Fulmar. Approaching the coast the sea state moderated and the approach to Gothenburg was accompanied by an impressive local electrical storm, followed by a wonderful sunset.

On day three of the survey we left Gothenburg at 02:30 and when we started surveying at dawn conditions were still slightly challenging but improved to a flat calm by the end of day. It was a more varied day for seabirds and we had plenty of practice at differentiating (and sometimes failing)  between the three species of skua.

Fulmar Carol Farmer-Wright 03

Fulmar (Photo by Carol Farmer-Wright)

During  late afternoon as the sea state got below three we picked up two groups of Harbour Porpoise in fairly concentrated areas, all the animals seen seemed to be travelling rather than feeding. Many small rafts of auks (mainly father and chick pairs) were also visible in the now much improved conditions.

Day four and the sea state had increased again somewhat, so a single lucky sighting of a pair of Harbour Porpoise who popped into a binocular view were the only cetaceans seen this day. As we neared Tilbury dock a final highlight was a partially spooned Pomarine Skua resting on the water just ahead of the ship.

Not part of the survey but of interest was a flyover as we came down the estuary of the last two Lancasters which are still flying, one of them from Canada. During the four days we also spotted two sailing ships on their way to Falmouth for the Tall Ships event.

This is a great route with a potential for seeing a wide range of marine species and our thanks go to Captain Bengt Hillberg, chief officer Per Persson and all the crew of the Transpulp who made us very welcome.


Carol Farmer-Wright and Maggie Gamble, Research Surveyors for MARINElife


MARINElife survey report: Tilbury-Gothenberg July 2014

Posted 14 July 2014

This survey had to be cancelled for operational reasons.

MARINElife blog: DFDS Seaways 'Transpulp' Tilbury-Gothenburg 7-10 June 2014

Posted 29 June 2014

Emma Webb & Elaine Brown, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Outward - overcast with sunny intervals, good visibility, south-westerly wind force 1-5.
Return - brighter, variable visibility with mist at times, south-westerly wind force 6-0.


Summary of Species Recorded

Marine Mammals
Harbour Porpoise  Phocoena phocoenca 35
White-Beaked Dolphin  Lagenorhynchus albirostris 7
Small Cetacean species 1
Grey Seal  Halichoerus grypus 33
Common Seal  Phoca vitulina 17
Unidentified seal species  3
Small marine mammal species (seal or porpoise)  1

Eider Somateria mollissima 54
Common Scoter  Melanitta nigra 72
Red-breasted Merganser  Mergus serrator 1
Black-throated Diver  Gavia arctica 3
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 61
Gannet  Morus bassanus 99 (inc. 1 dead)
Cormorant  Phalacrocorax carbo 18
Arctic Skua  Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Black-headed Gull  Chroicocephalus ridibundus 211
Common Gull  Larus canus 1
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 531
Lesser Black-backed Gull  Larus fuscus 179
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 15
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 2
Little Tern  Sterna albifrons 1
Sandwich Tern  Sterna sandvicensis 34
Common Tern  Sterna hirundo 7
Razorbill  Alca torda 1
'Commic' Tern  Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 1
Unidentified auk Species (Razorbill/Guillemot)  1
Large gull species  255
Tern species  15
Black-backed gull species  24

Terrestrial Birds
Avocet  Recurvirostra avosetta 13
Oystercatcher  Haematopus ostralegus 7
Shelduck  Tadorna tadorna 6
Mute Swan  Cygnus olor 44
Swallow  Hirundo rustica 1
Swift   Apus apus 2
Collared Dove  Streptopelia decaocto 1
Woodpigeon  Columba palumbus 3
Rook  Corvus frugilegus 5
Corvid species  1

Full of anticipation (for me anyway as this was my first survey for 2 years), we were rapidly escorted aboard by the friendly DFDS Seaways staff ready to start our survey.

We headed to the bridge as we departed Tilbury and straightaway estuary birds welcomed us with a number of different species of gull plus a few Common and Sandwich Tern, Avocet and Oystercatcher. Mammal sightings also started very quickly with plenty of seals hauled out in their regular spots as the tide was low and sandbanks exposed.  It was good to see a mix of both Common Seal and Grey Seal in the Thames Estuary. We had one Harbour Porpoise sighting late in the day once we got out into the southern North Sea away from the river, although we were surprised not to record Harbour Porpoise before this as they are a common sight in the Thames and even in Tilbury dock itself. Once we were further out to sea, we started recording more of the pelagic seabird species especially Fulmar.

WB Dolphin Russ Neave 01a







White beaked dolphin (Archive Photo: Russ Neave)

The following morning started bright and very early with daybreak at 4am. Arriving on the bridge we were greeted with a cracking sea state 1 and the expectation of a good day of surveying ahead.  However, cetaceans kept us waiting and it wasn't until 6am that we had our first Harbour Porpoise sighting of 2 animals moving quickly away from the ship. A while later, a small splash caught my attention off to port, followed by the sight of 3 large black dorsal fins cutting slowly through the calm seas. White-beaked dolphin! The animals were swimming fairly lethargically in a state of rest, although one animal did co-operatively rise more energetically out of the water once during a roll to see the white-beak (not all White-beaked dolphin have this!) and telltale white flank markings indicative of this species.  Four further sightings of Harbour Porpoise moving quickly through the sea throughout the day brought our total up to 6 sightings of 2 different species. Seabirds were fairly quiet in terms of sightings as is to be expected at this time of year when the vast majority of them are at their breeding colonies. However, we recorded Fulmar, Gannet, a large flock of 60 Common Scoter and a variety of gull species. It was interesting to see the difference in the races of Lesser Black-backed Gull as we sailed further north with the Baltic 'fuscus' race becoming far more prevalent instead of the 'graellsii' type we are more familiar with in the UK.

Harbour Porpoise Mike Bailey 02a







Habour Porpise (Archive Photo: Mike Bailey)

It was only just getting dark as we arrived into Gothenburg at 11pm and were back on the bridge for the departure at 4am. We headed out for the return crossing into a choppy sea state, but managed to sight one Harbour Porpoise moving swiftly close to the ship. As the morning progressed, the sea state became progressively better and our Harbour Porpoise detections went up. In a 2 hour period of near mirror calm seas we had 8 separate Harbour Porpoise sightings totally 16 animals. The majority of these animals were either resting or rolling slowing. Suddenly an animal rolling to starboard caught my attention which looked instantly bigger than the porpoises we had been recording. A quick check as the animal resurfaced confirmed my suspicions that we were looking at more White-beaked Dolphin. A group of four animals was travelling slowly away from us.

Throughout the afternoon and evening wind conditions picked up a little and sightings levels dropped again.  It shows how difficult it can be to spot porpoises in anything above a sea state 3.  Seabirds kept us very busy as we were leaving Gothenburg with various gull species being recorded, as well as good numbers of Eider and a few Common Scoter.  We also had a nice sighting of 3 Black-throated Diver flying close in front of the bridge, 2 of which were in their breeding plumage.

The final day saw us back in the southern North Sea with good numbers of seabirds around us including many Gannet, Fulmar and gulls of various species.  We also had 2 sightings of Harbour Porpoise including one in the Outer Thames Estuary and 2 seals - one of each species.  All too soon, however, Transpulp was arriving back in port and it was time to finish.  We concluded our survey on arrival back in Tilbury and thanked the Captain and his staff for their hospitality before heading ashore.

Emma Webb & Elaine Brown, Research Surveyors for MARINElife


MARINElife Survey Report: DFDS 'TransPulp' Tilbury-Gothenburg 31 May - 03 June 2014

Posted 08 June 2014

Fraser Paterson, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Outbound: SSW 2-3, dry but cloudy until late in day two when sunny, visibility good throughout.
Return: SW  3 dry, patchy mist / fog at times with intermittent light rain on second day.

Summary of species recorded

Marine Mammals
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
White Beaked Dolphin Lagenorhynchus albirostris 6
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 22
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Unidentified dolphin species   2
Unidentified seal species   69+

Common Eider Somateria mollissima 27
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 15
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 259
Gannet Morus bassanus 38
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 87
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 35
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 634
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 17
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 11
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 6
Guillemot Uria aalge 11
Unidentified 'Commic' Tern sp.    4
Unidentified Diver sp.   2
Mixed Larus Gull sp.  362

Terrestrial Birds
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 7
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Feral Pigeon Columba livia 1
Rook Corvus frugilegus 1
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 2
Unidentified corvid species

I was welcomed by the DFDS shore staff and was escorted to the TransPulp which quickly got underway after negotiating the lock at the entrance to Tilbury basin. When the ship entered the main channel of the River Thames, I accessed the bridge and was warmly welcomed by the Captain and his crew then began the survey.

As we made our way down the Thames, we encountered numerous Black-headed and Herring Gulls as well as Common and Sandwich Terns making their way to and from nesting sites, while a number of corvids and a single male Hen Harrier flew over the river in front of the ship. Around the estuary, an RAF Rescue helicopter provided an unexpected diversion as it practised landing a winchman on the ship, before the TransPulp headed north-eastward into the North Sea.

WB Dolphin Tom Brereton 01aWhite-beaked Dolphin (Archive photo: Tom Brereton)

Before long, we started to pick up Gannet, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake and the odd Guillemot. We disturbed an apparently sleeping Harbour Porpoise just ahead of the ship and shortly afterwards a Grey Seal surfaced for a quick look at us. The first day closed with the exciting encounter of a small group of five adult and one juvenile White-beaked Dolphin some 55-60 miles off Sea Paling (on the Norfolk coast). One dolphin leapt out of the water at least 8 times approximately 200 m off the starboard side giving great views of its sturdy body and distinctive greyish-white flashes along the flanks and pale grey patch just behind the dorsal fin.

By dawn on Sunday we were heading north-east towards Denmark and continued to encounter Gannet, Fulmar and Lesser Black-backed Gull in cloudy, misty conditions.  Almost as soon as we left the cloud behind, we passed 2 large rafts of resting Fulmars intermingled with a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls and large groups of widely dispersed Lesser Black-backed Gulls plus a single Great Skua.  Three Harbour Porpoise were observed as we sailed along the north-eastern peninsular of Denmark towards Skagen Point. Having passed from the Skagerrak into the Kattegat, a flight of Common Scoter flew across our path.  As the ship docked at the port of Gothenburg, we were greeted by more Herring Gulls and Eider some and nearby two Common Seals swam with Mute Swans.

After an early departure from Gothenburg, the survey recommenced at 05:00 as we sailed southwest from Skagen Point along Tannis Bay then Jammer Bay. Once again, the sea was like a millpond, although patchy mist meant that Harbour Porpoise were only visible sporadically. Nevertheless, a total of 15 were confirmed during the morning (with 6 other 'possibles' glimpsed in the mist). However, I caught a glimpse of something large diving just before the ship that left a clear 'fluke print'. This turned out to be a Minke Whale which surfaced 4 more times down the port side of the ship before we left it behind.

Minke Adrian Shephard 03aMinke Whale (Archive photo: Adrian Shephard)

Interestingly, one of the officers reported seeing 4 Orcas, including a bull, cow and two smaller animals, in this area 4 days before we left Tilbury (but alas they did not hang about for this survey!). In addition, a Black-browed Albatross had been observed off Skagen the previous week (unfortunately it too relocated, to Heligoland, Germany!).

Bird sightings remained fairly constant throughout the return survey with Lesser Black-backed Gull, Fulmar and Gannet being recorded infrequently; several large groups of gulls were seen around fishing vessels but were too distant to identify. Thick fog restricted sightings for several hours and only a few, scattered Fulmar and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were visible.

The final day began with the ship heading towards the Thames. Sea state remained good although it was still cloudy with intermittent rain and variable visibility at times. Once again in the central North Sea, observations were, as anticipated, few and far between with the breeding season in full swing and little migration happening. Nevertheless, two unidentified dolphin were seen close to a wind farm before we reached the pilot pick-up point off the Kent coast.

Heading back into the Thames estuary we passed three groups of seals hauled out on sandbars; these were presumably Grey Seal but too distant to confirm the species. We passed a flotilla of Dunkirk small boats heading into London for the D-Day celebrations and picked up more Sandwich and Common Tern, and Black-headed Gull as we neared London.  The survey was terminated as the TransPulp passed Southend Pier, with the last recorded observation of an immaculate Mediterranean Gull that flew directly under the bridge.

I thanked Captain Bengt Hillberg, his officers and crew for their hospitality and interest before heading ashore.

MARINElife survey report: DFDS Seaways 'Transpulp' Tilbury-Gothenburg 26-29 April 2014

Posted 06 May 2014

Carol Farmer-Wright  and Elaine Brown, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)

Outbound: Wind SSE Force 6 decreasing NE force 4 dry, becoming increasingly sunny visibility good.
Return: Wind NNW force 5 decreasing E force 3 dry, becoming increasingly cloudy.

Summary of species recorded

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 1
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 4
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 108
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 19

Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 103
Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca 7
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 3
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 35
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 124
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 9
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 69
Common Gull Larus canus 6
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 66
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 487
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 110
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 59
Little Tern Sterna albifrons 8
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 11
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 58
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 31
Guillemot Uria aalge 52
Razorbill Alca torda 1
Little Auk Alle alle 5
Unidentified Tern sp.  10
Unidentified Diver sp. 11
Mixed Larus sp. 454
Unidentified Auk Sp. 3
Unidentified Wader sp. 30

Terrestrial Birds
Mute Swan Cygnus olor 2
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 11
Goldeneye Bucephala clangula 3
Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 2
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 41
Feral Pigeon Columba livia 1
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1
Rook Corvus frugilegus 1
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 8
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus 9
Garden Warbler Sylvia borin 1
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla 1
Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe 1
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 1
Unidentified small migrants  43
Unidentified Duck sp.  2

It was raining as we drove towards Tilbury for the first survey on this new route for MARINElife. As we approached the dock, the clouds lifted and the sun started to break through. We were welcomed by the DFDS staff and were escorted to the Transpulp where we were given a quick orientation tour of the vessel by Annika before being invited on to the bridge to start our survey.

Tilbury dock Carol Farmer Wright
Tilbury dock (Carol Farmer Wright)

It takes around three hours to negotiate the River Thames and its estuary. During this time we were encountering Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull and the occasional tern. Just over an hour into the survey a Harbour Porpoise briefly surfaced north of the Isle of Sheppey, the first of many that we were to see during the voyage. North of Herne Bay we encountered a small colony of Grey Seal hauled out on a sandbank. We left them behind and headed north-eastward into the North Sea and left the bridge at dusk 50 miles east of Lowestoft.

Greay Seal Carol Farmer Wright 01
Grey Seals on the Kent coast (Carol Farmer Wright)

By dawn the next day we were level with the Danish border. We continued heading north-east and encountered the occasional Harbour Porpoise and a couple of Common Dolphin during the day.  Birds seen included Lesser and Great Black-backed Gulls with Common and Arctic Tern also present. Evening time approached and we had reached the north-eastern peninsular of Denmark near Skagen. Over the next hour we encountered 19 Harbour Porpoise. Darkness fell and we watched the ship dock at the port of Gothenburg and retired to bed.

At dawn, 4:30am, we had already left Gothenburg and were 23 miles west of the city. Many migrating birds such as Willow Warbler were crossing our path as we started to round the Danish coast. The sea was like a millpond which enabled us to record a further 82 Harbour Porpoise during the day. Some animals were resting and would start swimming as our vessel approached. Bird sightings remained fairly constant throughout the return survey with many Lesser Black-backed Gull and Gannet being recorded.

Harbour Porpoise Carol Farmer Wright 01
Harbour Porpoise (Carol Farmer Wright)

The final day dawned with the ship heading towards the pilot pick-up point off the Kent coast. As the pilot boarded our vessel a Bottlenose Dolphin made a brief appearance directly in front of the ship, his behaviour indicating that he was feeding.

Heading back into the Thames estuary we recorded a couple of Grey Seal. We were now seeing more Common Tern, Herring Gull and Black-headed Gull as we neared London.  With the M25 Dartford crossing in sight, less than 3 miles from Tilbury dock we were delighted to record 3 Harbour Porpoise in the deep navigation channel directly ahead of the ship.

We concluded our survey on arrival back in Tilbury and thanked Captain Rolf Nilsson, his officers and crew for their hospitality before heading ashore.