MARINElife blog: Condor Ferries (Commodore Goodwill) Portsmouth-Jersey (15th September 2015)

Peter Howlett and Mike Mackay, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Summary of Weather and Species Recorded

Weather: Wind SW 5, sunny spells but cloud increasing with occasional light showers later.

Marine mammals
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 3
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 41
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 110
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 5
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 20
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 23
'Commic' Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 2

Mike and I met up at Portsmouth shortly after 5pm and were taken promptly to the Commodore Goodwill by the Condor Ferries staff. The food was up to the usual high standard on the Goodwill with an excellent variety of main course and desserts to choose from in the three-course supper.

Balearic SW Peter Howlett 01

Balearic Shearwater, one of the 41 recorded (Peter Howlett)

At this time of year the ship docks in St Helier, Jersey just after sunrise so surveying is only undertaken on the return leg from Jersey to Portsmouth. This makes for a leisurely start and yet more food, in the form of a cooked breakfast. It was a lovely, sunny, if somewhat breezy, morning. Hopes were high that the winds might have pushed some interesting seabirds into the Channel.

As soon as we had cleared St Helier breakwater we were allowed on to the bridge where we were welcomed by Captain Rad Zelazny and we quickly set up the paperwork to get the survey underway. The great thing about the Commodore Goodwill is that she has open bridge wings and with a following wind (meaning the force 5 wind was reduced to a gentle breeze on the wing) and some warm sunshine it was a pleasure to be able to stand outside to survey for the first few hours.

Things got off to a slow start, with just a handful of Shag passing, but soon picked up once we were north of Jersey and continued until we passed Cap de la Hague. A steady stream of Balearic Shearwater sightings was the highlight, with 41 recorded in all. The seas along the northwest coast of France are a major feeding and moulting area in late summer for this critically endangered species - the world population is a mere 3,000 breeding pairs - so it is always good to record this species on a survey.

Sandwich Tern Peter Howlett 03

Sandwich Tern (Peter Howlett)

It was also great to pick up three Storm Petrel among the Shearwater. Gannet numbers picked up as we neared Alderney and its associated colonies. Sandwich Tern were also a feature of the morning with a steady trickle passing us heading south. Our only cetacean sighting, two Harbour Porpoise, were seen just south of Cap de la Hague.

There was a very noticeable change once we were north of Cap de la Hague when the seabird sightings dried up almost completely. Unfortunately it seems the strong winds overnight had cleared everything out and only a handful of birds were seen across the central area of the Channel. Still all data is useful, even when it is negative. It was not until we neared the Isle of Wight that we picked up a few more Sandwich Tern, with small numbers fishing in the tide race off Sandown Bay. The survey finished just as we turned north at the east end of the Isle of Wight.

Our thanks to Captain Zelazny and his crew for the warm welcome on board and to Condor for their continued support for MARINElife.


Peter Howlett and Mike Mackay, Research Surveyors for MARINElife