Steve Morgan and John Perry, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Weather: Outbound: wind light northerly, sea state mainly 2-3 visibility very good. Inbound: wind fresh northerly, sea state mainly 3-4, visibility very good.
Summary of sightings:
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 2
Atlantic Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Dolphin sp. 2
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna 2
Pintail Anas acuta 5
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 1
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 14
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 1
Atlantic Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 52
Northern Gannet Morus bassanus 118
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 14
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 24
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 13
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 115
Common Guillemot Uria aalge 419
Razorbill Alca torda 26
Puffin Fratercula arctica 4
Unidentified Auk sp. 56
Unidentified Diver sp. 1
Unidentified Gull sp. 1
We checked in with DFDS and boarded the Finlandia Seaways in good time and enjoyed a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast before beginning the survey early the next morning off the Northumbrian coast. Conditions were very good: a very light northerly wind gave us a sea state of barely three and visibility was excellent. We confidently expected cetaceans to appear during the course of the day.
Shortly afterwards John spotted a heavy splash off our port bows. We hurried to the port side of the bridge to investigate and were pleased to find two Common Dolphin. Their "hourglass" flank markings were very briefly visible to confirm the identification. We watched as they surfaced three or four times before disappearing in a deeper dive some fifty metres off our port side. We continued our vigil until about 17.30 when the rapidly fading light obliged us to bring the day's survey to an end.
We awoke the following morning in Zeebrugge harbour and had plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast before our departure at 10.00am. A Great-crested Grebe was in the harbour, along with Black-headed Gulls and Herring Gulls.
As we pulled out into the open sea it was obvious that conditions weren't quite as good as the previous day. The sea state had risen to about four though visibility was still extremely good. We still felt optimistic about finding at least a few Harbour Porpoise.
Amid the wind farms off the Belgian coast we did indeed find a considerable amount of bird activity. There were good numbers of Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Guillemots and Gannets either circling expectantly or milling about - suggesting that a big concentration of fish might be present. We scanned eagerly looking for dorsal fins breaking the surface but, despite our efforts, couldn't find a cetacean. We did, however, find a juvenile Little Gull.
A little way past this area I saw two splashes off our starboard side which appeared to be the work of a Harbour Porpoise, though the animal didn't show well enough to be certain of the identification. Two further Harbour Porpoise did appear later in the day after much diligent scanning, both single animals and both surfacing briefly only one or two times. Nevertheless, their stubby triangular dorsal fins left us in no doubt as to their identity.
Late in the afternoon some divers began to appear, mostly Red-throated though one was certainly Black-throated. By then the light was fading once more as another bright winter's day drew to a close.
Steve Morgan and John Perry, Research Surveyors for MARINElife