MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report: Condor Ferries ‘Condor Liberation’ Poole-Guernsey 9 June 2016

MARINElife/Guernsey WLO: Chris Gleed-Owen

Outward: overcast and foggy, visibility down to 200m, clearing later, sea state 3-4
Return: mainly sunny, sea state 3-5. Good visibility

Summary of Sightings

Marine Mammals:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 5

Great Skua Herring Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Black-headed Gull
Auk sp.
Shearwater sp.

Following a training and induction day by Rick Morris and Glynis Northwood-Long in April 2016, this was my first solo daytrip as Wildlife Officer (WLO) for MARINElife in partnership with Condor Ferries. The role provides a visible point of contact for interaction with the general public, answering questions and promoting an interest in marine wildlife, whilst observing cetaceans and seabirds.

We departed Poole at 07:50 and the route past Brownsea Island brought a variety of birds including Cormorant and various gulls. Unfortunately fog descended as we left Studland and Sandbanks behind and with visibility down to 1km we could barely see Old Harry Rocks.

Ortac Chris Gleed-Owen 01
The Gannet colony on Ortac - fortunately the fog had lifted! (Chris Gleed-Owen)

A lone Gannet passed close but visibility dropped even further, to a few hundred metres, and the ship had to sound its foghorn for a while. As the fog lifted a little, I saw what looked like a Great Skua flicking low over the water 200m to starboard. An unidentified shearwater and auk were the only other birds seen.

Visibility improved for the rest of the trip, allowing sightings of gulls and Gannets as we passed Alderney and Ortac rock. Despite a fairly flat sea state, no cetaceans were seen. Quite a few passengers asked me questions, including a couple of birders who regretted leaving their binoculars in the car - something to be rectified on the return leg! Most passengers were pleasantly surprised to hear that cetaceans or other interesting wildlife could be seen on this route.

St Peter Port Chris Gleed-Owen 01
St Peter Port breakwater and Castle Cornet (Chris Gleed-Owen)

After a pleasant three hours in St Peter Port, the return journey began in sunshine, with a busy top deck. Oystercatcher, gulls and Guillemot were seen, with increasing number of Gannets as we approached Ortac rock. This guano-covered rock is home to many nesting pairs and there are always hundreds of Gannets circling it.

The highlight came half-way back across the Channel, with five Bottlenose Dolphin briefly surfacing off the starboard side. Observant passengers with window seats would have had a great view! From the top deck, I had to wait for them to re-emerge astern, and resurface twice in our distant wake.

BND Peter Howlett 08
Bottlenose Dolphin (Archive photo: Peter Howlett)

The wind was strong on the return journey, with whitecaps and a low swell, though the sea state improved later on. A few gulls and Gannet showed themselves as we approached the Purbeck coast and we had great views of Old Harry Rocks. The sun stayed out as we entered Poole Harbour and passed Brownsea Island, topping off a great day.

Many thanks to Condor Ferries for its hospitality during my first WLO trip! If you'd like to come on one of our daytrips from Poole to Guernsey, you can book online here. What's more, Condor Ferries kindly donate £5 per ticket to MARINElife!