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MARINElife Survey Report: Neptune Line ‘Neptune Dynamis’ Southampton-Santander 14 - 22 June 2019

Posted 27 June 2019

Jack Lucas and Emma Bell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Outbound: Sea state 1-5. SW winds. Clear with mostly strong breezes.
Return: Sea state 0-5. Winds E-SW. Calm seas, some mist and fog.

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 24
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 8445
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 9
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 5
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 11
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 5
Sperm Whale Physeter microcephalus 1
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 52
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 42
Unidentified Whale sp. 2

Other Marine Animals
Tuna sp. Thunnus sp. 3
Ocean Sunfish Mola mola 2

Auk sp. Alcidae 154
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 12
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 20
Gannet Morus bassanus 903
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 28
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 85
Gull sp. Laridae 62
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 162
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 35
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 72
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2104
Razorbill Alca torda 7
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 13
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 9
Shearwater sp. 1
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 5
Tern sp. Sternidae 11
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 29

Terrestrial Birds
Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon Columba livia 1
Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur 1
Swift Apus apus 2
Swift sp. Apodidae 4
Curlew Numenius arquata 1
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1

Day 1

Having arrived at Southampton docks in good time, Emma and I headed onboard the Neptune Dynamis and had a few hours to settle in, meet the crew and have lunch before the ship left port in the early afternoon. This was to be my third time across the Bay and Emma's first long route with MARINElife after her introductory survey in the Channel earlier in the year; we were both excited and eager to get underway! It was fairly quiet heading out into the English Channel, but we had plenty of gulls to keep us company and a few Sandwich Tern and Fulmar to start the survey off. To conclude our first evening's surveying we were joined by a small group of Common Dolphin that approached the ship to bowride, an expected surprise this far into the Channel.

Common Dolphin Jack Lucas 04

Common Dolphin (Jack Lucas)

Day 2

We started surveying at first light (~6am) the next day just South of Brittany, but due to sea state 5 and poor visibility it wasn't until lunchtime that we encountered our first cetaceans of the day in the form of some more Common Dolphin. These animals are always a delight to encounter on surveys due to their fondness of approaching vessels and lovely clear views as they breach. The encounters soon came thick and fast and by early afternoon we had recorded nearly ten different groups of Common Dolphin. Things started to spice up a bit as we crossed the northern continental shelf edge of the Bay of Biscay and I spotted our first whale blow of the trip.

Fin Blow Jack Lucas

Fin Whale Blow (Jack Lucas)

Additionally, upon later review photos of a strange dolphin we observed leaping near the boat, it appears that it may have been a hybrid of a Striped Dolphin and one of the larger offshore delphinid species (possibly bottlenose?). Over the next few hours we sighted five more Fin Whale, including one surfacing just ahead of the boat, and encountered multiple small groups of Striped Dolphin; a Biscay specialist only found in the deeper waters beyond the shelf edge. The only birds to be out this far were some immature Gannet, as most self-respecting seabirds of breeding age should be nesting during this time of year! The sun set with whales still spouting in the distance. Around midnight I walked out on deck to take photos of Jupiter peeking out behind the full moon and was startled as a loud blow erupted from the inky darkness off the port side!

Day 3

Waking up in Santander port the next day, the ship loaded ahead of schedule and by early afternoon we were back off across the Bay of Biscay. In the shallow coastal waters there were multiple Yellow-legged Gull to add to the list and a fantastic view of a Great Skua flying across the bow. As we approached the southern shelf edge the cetaceans started rolling in again in the form of Common Dolphin, Striped Dolphin and Fin Whale. With all the action care had to be taken with each dolphin encounter to ensure we were not missing the Striped Dolphin, as whilst these animals have a highly conspicuous breaching nature in the distance, they do tend to bunch up and slip quietly past once the ship gets closer; making the confirmation of species difficult at times. Despite straining our eyes as we crossed the complex underwater canyon systems, stronghold of the mysterious beaked whales, the sea slightly too rough to glimpse any of these elusive creatures.

Soon however we were rewarded with a peculiar blow in the distance, directly ahead of the ship. The low angle, prolonged nature of these blows and sudden disappearance with no re-sightings despite calm sea and 360 degree views suggested this was a Sperm Whale; the largest toothed predator on the planet! We were also amused to find an undocumented stowaway onboard in the form of a Turtle Dove, which had apparently fallen asleep on the roof of the bridge in Santander and awoke to find itself hundreds of miles from shore travelling across the Bay of Biscay! We do hope it enjoys its surprise summer holiday in Ireland… More Striped Dolphin and Fin Whale concluded our evening, now crossing the Abyssal Plain (the deepest part of the Bay of Biscay) over 5000m below the ship.

Striped Dolphin Jack Lucas 01

Striped Dolphin (Jack Lucas)

Day 4

The next morning was magical, stepping out on deck to find the ocean mirror-calm and a surreal mist in combination with the sunrise made everything glow orange. We were just off the continental shelf edge and before we had even taken our position reading dolphins appeared all around the ship. Hundreds of Common Dolphin quickly surrounded us but our eyes were drawn to a smaller group of larger dolphins just off the bow that were behaving differently from the rest.

Minke Whale Jack Lucas 01

Minke Whale (Jack Lucas)

Photographs later identified these as Bottlenose Dolphin, probably the offshore ecotype. The whales soon started popping up and we had fantastic close views of several Minke Whale and some larger blows in the distance assured us that Fin Whale were still in the vicinity.

As we progressed along the shelf edge, were found ourselves inundated with literally thousands of Common Dolphin approaching the ship from all directions. This went on for several hours and soon it became extremely difficult to estimate numbers, as a quick 360 scan with binoculars revealed fins breaking the surface all the way to the horizon; we had found ourselves in the middle of a superpod! In total we recorded over 6000 dolphins in less than 3 hours. More whales and dolphins followed, and a few lone splashes caught in the corners of our eyes indicated that possibly some tuna were present.

The unexpected highlight of the day came when I noticed a large pale circular object disturbing the surface passing beneath the bridge wing; an Ocean Sunfish! Looking at the photos afterwards its mouth was out of the water and it was spitting a plume of water in the air; very bizarre behaviour. Emma potentially sighted another one some hours later and I couldn't be certain, but a darker circular object swimming a few metres beneath the surface passed by was probably a turtle.

Sunfish Jack Lucas

Sunfish (Jack Lucas)

To make up for the low numbers of birds, several tiny Storm Petrel were noticed throughout the day flitting across the deep water. What an exciting day in the Bay!

Day 5

Sunrise the next day found us heading across the Irish Sea a few hours from Rosslare. A few Common Dolphin were sighted and our first Grey Seal and Harbour Porpoise were added to the growing species list, in addition to the first real bird densities of the trip with Manx Shearwater and Gannet in abundance. Once in port, Emma nipped to the shop in Rosslare and we prepared for departure again.

Little did we know that the most diverse hours of the trip were just ahead! Straight out of the harbour, distant views of a few large dolphins feeding assured us that these coastal waters held Bottlenose Dolphin. The sea had flattened to a mirror and in a few minutes the marine mammals started appearing; Grey Seal, Harbour Porpoise and Common Dolphin seeming to alternate one after the other.

Grey Seal Jack Lucas 01

Grey Seal (Jack Lucas)

At this point we were well into the Celtic Deep and Manx Shearwater and Common Dolphin were being recorded in their hundreds, often feeding together, and several excellent surfacings of Minke Whale quite close to the ship provided good photo opportunities. Emma noticed a strange blow and some large splashes coming from a group of feeding birds and dolphins just off the starboard bow and we watched as a huge fin, several metres high, rose out of the white water; perplexing us for several seconds (could it be Orca?!). Then a columnar blow, a huge dark rolling body and finally the swept back fin allowed me to confirm that what we were actually witnessing was a fin whale lunge feeding at the surface, complete with dolphins riding its bow wave and surrounded by diving birds! A spectacular feeding frenzy to observe, and the day finished with more dolphins and porpoise feeding with their seabird counterparts as the sun set.

Common Dolphin Jack Lucas 06

Common Dolphin (Jack Lucas)

Day 6-8

The next day a thick sea fog obscured everything more than a few metres from the ship, which made surveying all but impossible for much of the day. And the next few days traversing the English Channel to Zeebrugge and Le Havre seemed to consist of mostly night-time passages and day-time port-stops, so only a few hours each evening could be spent on effort. We spent the time entering data, reviewing the blog photos and working on our respective cetacean-based Master's theses. The sunsets were extremely beautiful, but all quiet on the marine megafauna front. We were kept company by several lovely members of the Ukrainian crew who during the voyage took every opportunity to practice their English at length with us. No further marine mammals were sighted, but a scattering of coastal bird species kept us busy. We docked ahead of schedule in Southampton, said goodbye to the crew members on watch and made our way home with fond memories of our survey. We would like to thank the Captain and crew of the Neptune Dynamis for accommodating us during this fantastic crossing, the first MARINElife survey to be conducted on this vessel.

Sunset Collage Jack Lucas

Sunsets (Jack Lucas)

Jack Lucas and Emma Bell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Neptune Line ‘Neptune Aegli’ Southampton-Santander 22 February -1 March 2019

Posted 03 March 2019

Steve and Margaret Boswell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Swell days 2-6 reducing from 5 metre to 1 metre by day 6
Wind averaging 15 knots from SSE to S until last day when moved to SW.
Fog leaving Southampton and arriving in Santander otherwise excellent visibility without rain.

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 2
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 272
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 3
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 18
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 3

Auk sp. Alcidae 18          
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 1             
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 28             
Common Gull Larus canus 9        
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 7           
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 8            
Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 14      
Gannet Morus bassanus 1494    
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 19             
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 37
Guillemot Uria aalge 202              
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 53              
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 324     
Larus sp. Larus sp 13      
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 86               
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2     
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 2                       
Razorbill Alca torda 6     
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellate 1         
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1

Terrestrial Birds
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 1
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba yarrellii 1

Day 1 Southampton

We arrived at Southampton port in good time to walk from the car park to board the Neptune Aegli. After being escorted to our cabins we were informed that lunch was being served!  Shortly afterwards it was time for departure, so we made our way to the bridge and introduced ourselves to Captain Pavlov Pasenchenko.  Herring Gull were already in pairs on the cruise terminal roof.

Within minutes of departure a heavy fog descended and continued for the rest of the afternoon, no surveying possible today!

Fog_Steve Boswell

Fog (steve Boswell)

Day 2 Rosslare

The following morning, we found ourselves four hours out from Rosslare. Visibility was good but a heavy swell was running. We were kept busy with continuous bird sightings with a couple of Manx Shearwater being of note for this time of year. Our first cetacean sightings were a group of Common Dolphin coming in to bow ride just over an hour away from port. We managed a quick walk on the beach in Rosslare before returning to the ship, Stonechat were singing on the gorse bushes. We departed at 17.00 which gave us enough daylight to survey for just over an hour. We observed two Bottlenose Dolphin and a Grey Seal in that time. A Black Guillemot in full breeding plumage was the bird highlight.

BND Mike Bailey 02

Bottlenose Dolphin (Mike Bailey)

Day 3 Portbury

We arrived in Portbury just as the sun was rising. After breakfast we walked the thirty-five minutes along the wildlife corridor the port authority had created to Portbury village and enjoyed a coffee in warm sunshine! Walking back to the ship we saw a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly.

Day 4 Channel- Northern Bay of Biscay

Surveying at 07.00, our first full day ahead. Clouds cleared to produce a strong forward glare. We experienced light winds but an annoying swell over 5 metre which continued for most of the day and only reducing to 3 metre mid-afternoon. Common Dolphin were seen and good numbers of birds mainly Kittiwake and Gannet. We crossed the shelf edge at 16.30 when bird numbers reduced, and darkness fell as we entered deep water.

Common Dolphin 01_Steve Boswell

Common Dolphin (Steve Boswell)

Day 5 Santander

We should have been in Santander Harbour before dawn but instead we were held outside the harbour entrance due to more thick fog. We were allowed to proceed at mid-day which meant our departure was delayed until after dark.

The fog cleared to produce a warm sunny day with temperatures of 20 degrees which we spent drinking coffee in Santander.

Day 6 Northern Bay of Biscay-Channel

Daybreak we found ourselves going over the Northern shelf break. Pilot Whale were seen with their blows being clearly visible against the sun. One individual was seen tail slapping. Large numbers of Gannet were on the move north with Great Skua in attendance, especially around the French and Spanish fishing boats.

Pilot Whale Adrian Shephard 02

Pilot Whale (Adrian Shephard)

Common Dolphin were seen every hour from dawn until dusk. An unfortunate sight of two dead Common Dolphin entangled in fishing nets reminded us of the hazards these animals are still facing.

Dead CD Netting_Steve Boswell

Entangled in netting dead Common Doilphin (Steve Boswell)

Again, we had a rain free day!

Day 7 Le Havre

We managed to survey for just over 4 hours on our approach to Le Havre. A massive feeding frenzy of mainly Gannet were seen, a spectacular sight!  3 Harbour Porpoise gave good close views.

Le Havre_Steve Boswell

Le Havre (Steve Boswell)

Day 8 Southampton

Arrival in Southampton coincided with the arrival of the new massive MSC Bellissima cruise ship ready for its inaugural sailing the following day. At first, we thought the water cannon display was for us!

After breakfast we thanked the Captain, his officers and crew for their kind hospitality before walking the short distance to the car park and home.

Steve and Margaret Boswell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Neptune Line ‘Neptune Aegli’ Southampton-Santander 24 January -1 February 2019

Posted 13 February 2019

Carol Farmer-Wright and Simon Boswell; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Marine Animals
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 36
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Auk sp. Alcidae 34
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 28
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 1
Common Gull Larus canus 26
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 14
Diver sp. Gaviidae 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 240
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 44
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 28
Guillemot Uria aalge 755
Gull sp. Laridae 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 68
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 408
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 154
Razorbill Alca torda 9
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellate 5

Terrestrial Birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 1

Survey day 1
Wind South West to North North Westerly Force 1-6 Sea state 0-3
Weather Overcast, mainly dry, occasional light rain
Visibility poor to good.

This was to be the first Southampton to Santander survey this year.

We met at 8am at Southampton docks and proceeded to the ship. The temperature had dropped below freezing the night before and so we walked briskly to the vessel to go through all the security checks and take our belongings to our cabins. We began our survey at noon as the ship exited Southampton water at Calshot spit.

As we entered the Solent we started to record Great and Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, and a few Common Gull. Cormorant appeared nearer the Needles on the west end of the Isle of Wight.

Needles_Steve Boswell

Needles (Steve Boswell)

Leaving the Isle of Wight behind we started to see Auks, namely Guillemot and Razorbill; these became more numerous as we passed by Durleston Head, a breeding area they will return to later in the year. Eventually we started to see Gannet and our highlight of the day was recording a Red-throated Diver passing the ship, its drab winter colours and drooped head confirming its identity. A further Diver species was recorded during the day, but light and distance prevented an exact identification.

We finished our survey in the central Lyme Bay area. The light faded before we had a chance to record any dolphin, so we will have to wait for another day.

Survey day 2
Wind West to South South westerly Force 3-5 Sea state 2
Weather Overcast and misty with decreasing cloud cover
Visibility poor to moderate.

Daybreak found us heading up the Bristol Channel. We started surveying at 8am and managed to work for just over two hours before manoeuvres towards Portbury lock brought our efforts to an end. No cetaceans were seen; the only dark shapes that were seen "logging" turned out to be logs! The pilot advised that many tree branches and trunks had been picked up by the Severn owing to the recent high tides and they were being transported by the current to the sea. Birds were few, the majority of sightings being made as commercial vessels passed by on the outbound side of the channel. Kittiwake, Common Gull, Herring Gull and Black-headed Gull were following each vessel in small numbers hoping for the wake to bring up food from the depths.

Carol FW_Steve Boswell

Carol Surveying (Steve Boswell)

We stopped surveying as we waited our turn to enter Portbury Lock. After the survey as our vessel slowed, we were able to see (but did not record) the same bird species that were following the other vessels. About 50 birds were behind us all hoping for food to appear in our wake. Sadly no cetaceans were recorded this day.

Survey day 3
Wind South Westerly Force 6-7 Sea state 5-3
Weather Overcast
Visibility moderate.

As the previous day, we were ready to survey at 08.00 with a couple of hours available before arrival in Rosslare. Large groups of auks were on the move, all Guillemot with no sightings of Razorbill. A Great Northern Diver gave a close fly past just before a Grey Seal came into view.

In the environs of Rosslare harbour, a Hooded Crow was evident along with the usual shorebirds.

We were on the bridge for departure and watched the late afternoon sunlight shining through the clouds on the beautiful Irish coastline.

Survey day 4
Wind North Westerly Force 8-6 Sea state 7-6 with a 3-metre swell
Weather Moderate cloud with sunny spells and continual glare
Visibility good.

Again, we were on the bridge surveying at 08.00 after a cooked breakfast and plenty of coffee.

Conditions were challenging with a heavy swell which was added to in the form of strong glare that continued throughout the day.

A group of Lesser Black-backed Gull were in attendance keeping us company for the first few hours. Kittiwake were in evidence in good numbers and continued as we headed into deep water, well south of their breeding areas. One unfortunate individual was being pursued by four Great Skua.

An hour later it was a Lesser Black-backed Gulls turn to be mobbed by another Great Skua, the flight of the gull was fast and furious as it managed to avoid the Skuas attack.

We recorded a couple of sightings of Common Dolphin and we were expectant as at around 14.00 we arrived at the shelf edge. Alas, no further encounters were to be had on this day. Near the days end we witnessed an unusual cloud formation. These clouds used to be a sign to sailors that a deep depression was approaching and that vessels should move rapidly away from the area.

Clouds_Steve Boswell

Cloud Formations (Steve Boswell)

Concluding the day with our evening meal and a well-deserved rest before our arrival in Santander the following morning.

Santander 29/01/2019 and 30/01/2019

We had the opportunity to go ashore as departure was scheduled for the following day. The walk into Santander took one hour and time was spent strolling around the pleasant city.

The next morning dawned with bright sunshine and temperatures climbed to a respectable 13 degrees. We watched the interestingly shaped car carrier City of St. Petersburg arrive in the afternoon with the backdrop of the snow-covered mountains.

As darkness fell a gull roost on the quayside contained a mixture of Lesser Black-backed Gull and Yellow- legged Gull contained over 300 birds. A lovely fly past of 28 Little Egret heading up the estuary was seen just as the light faded.

Port & Gulls_Steve Boswell

Quay & Gulls (Steve Boswell)

We departed at 8pm and sailed slowly past the lights of Santander before heading out into the bay.

Survey day 5
Wind W Force 6, increasing to NW Force 9 in squalls reducing to SW Force 6
Sea state 4 morning increasing to 6 by midday reducing to 3 at days end.
Swell 3 metres reduced to 2 by days end.
Weather Mostly cloudy with occasional sun and squally showers, one of sleet.
Visibility good to moderate in showers.

This was to be our last day crossing Biscay. By daybreak we were on the northern shelf-break with 840 metres of water below us. We had therefore been unable to survey the abyssal plain this time but instead had an opportunity to once again see life on the Armoricain Shelf and Celtic Sea areas abutting France.

The day began before 8 a.m. with many Black-backed Gull, Lesser and a few Great accompanying the ship. Many of the gulls remained behind the ship to scavenge in the wake and take advantage of the air currents. On occasions they would move forward of the bridge so that we were able to count them in our survey. An unofficial count at 9:18 a.m. evidenced 238 gulls around the vessel, only some of those were eligible to be included in the survey. These had all dispersed by 10:00 a.m.

Other birds we encountered in the morning were Kittiwake in good numbers, adult Gannet moving north towards their breeding grounds, a brief period when auks were seen and a solitary Fulmar. The afternoon brought more of the same species with the addition of over a 15-minute period 12 Great Skua looking quite threatening in the fading light.

We were fortunate to encounter six groups of Common Dolphin during the day, a total of 30 animals four juveniles amongst their number. All groups headed towards the bow to bow-ride, each juvenile keeping close to their mother.

Common Dolphin Carol Farmer Wright 01

Common Dolphin (Carol Farmer-Wright)

We ended the day having experienced rain, seen rainbows and even experienced a sleet shower but retired to our cabins having enjoyed a good days surveying.

Survey day 6
Wind SSW force 4 to SSE force 3 with Force 6 in rain showers       
Sea state 2-3 with no swell
Weather Rain showers initially at dawn becoming dry after one hour with continual glare.
Visibility moderate to good.

We were able to survey for 4 hours in the morning before we entered Le Havre. The spectacular arrival of the Pilot by helicopter coincided with the also spectacular feeding frenzy of Gannet, Kittiwake, and Guillemot.

Pilot Arrival_Steve Boswell

Pilot Arrival (Steve Boswell)

As we concluded the survey, we noted that we had just crossed the Greenwich Meridian line. In Le Havre as the light faded, we were fortunate to have a Peregrine Falcon alight on one of the neighbouring cranes.

Our thanks as always go to Neptune Line for their continuing support. Thanking Captain Pasenchenko and his crew for keeping us well fed and informed, we reflected on another interesting survey.

Steve Boswell and Carol Farmer-Wright, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

MARINElife Survey Report: Neptune Line ‘Neptune Aegli’ Southampton-Santander 20-25 October 2018

Posted 03 November 2018

Steve Boswell; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Day 1   North East force 2-3 swell 1 metre
Day 2   North West force 4
Day3    North East force 6 swell  2-3 metre
Day 4   North East force 6 swell 1 metre
Day 5   North East moving to South West force 2-3

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 3
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 343 
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1   
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 15 
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1         
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 40               
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 14          

Auk sp. Alcidae 5
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 6
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 60
Common Gull Larus canus 12
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 1200
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 29
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 283
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 32
Guillemot Uria aalge 34
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 62
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 37
Larus sp. Larus sp. 43
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 30
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Razorbill Alca torda 7
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 8
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 1
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 18

Terrestrial Birds
Barn Owl Tyto Alba 1
Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus 1
Skylark Alauda arvensis 12
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos 2
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 1
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 4
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba yarrellii 1
Goldcrest Regulus regulus 2
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 11
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs 4
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita 1

I boarded Neptune Aegli at 22.00 and introduced myself to Captain Georgios Xylouris before being shown to my cabin. The ship sailed at 02.00.

After a large breakfast, I headed up to the bridge at daybreak to find that we were off Brixham. The sea state was good and with the light behind us I had great viewing conditions. Groups of Common Dolphin were seen and then four groups of Pilot Whale. A very close Minke Whale ended a busy session.

Minke Adrian Shephard 04

Minke Whale (Adrian Shephard)

A group of Herring Gull were mobbing something and as they came nearer and nearer, an unfortunate Barn Owl revealed itself out at sea and in full sunshine. At 16.00 we turned the corner around Lands End and and I watched the green flash as the sunset at 18.30 before heading down for dinner.

Most of Sunday was spent in Portbury, we set sail at 16.00 bound for Santander as Rosslare was not being visited on this trip. I managed a couple of uneventful hours before darkness fell as we sailed between Steepholm and Flatholm.

Overnight the wind increased to between 20 and 30 knots and a large swell was running. Morning saw us 30 miles off the Brittany coast near the island of Ouessant.  As the sun rose, I was greeted with low glare. As we approached the northern shelf, good numbers of dolphins were seen including a nice tight packed group of Striped Dolphin. A spectacular sight in this area was nearly 300 Great Shearwater flying close to the bow in a fifteen minute period.

Great Shearwater Peter Howlett 02

Great Shearwaters (Peter Howlett)

The following morning we berthed in Santander. As it was low tide I headed to the estuary directly across from the dock. A raised platform gave good views of waders and ducks with the highlight being 10 feeding Spoonbill. After previously being fooled by the raptor scarer on a lamp standard, I was amused to see a real-life Peregrine sat on a standard next to the scarer!

Peregrine Peter Jones 01

Peregrine Falcon (Peter Jones)

We departed at 12.30 for the 22 hour sailing to Le Havre. A second owl of the survey was seen as we headed into the Southern Bay in the form of a Short-eared Owl. A flock of 12 Skylark flew towards the coast. The wind soon increased and viewing was very difficult, no cetaceans were seen on this section of the survey.

The sea calmed overnight and Wednesday I arrived on the bridge to see better viewing conditions. Just 30 miles west of Alderney before we entered the Channel shipping lane many small groups of Common Dolphin were seen but sea bird numbers were quite low.

Common Dolphin Jack Lucas 01

Common Dolphin (Jack Lucas)

Thursday was spent in Le Havre where a Black Redstart spent the day on the rocks close to the ship. 300 Coot were feeding in the estuary and I observed feeding frenzies of gulls and Cormorant. A short amount of time to survey after leaving port produced a Harbour Porpoise. I headed down for yet another large meal, thanked the crew and Captain for all their assistance and had a few hours sleep before disembarking in Southampton early Friday morning.

Black Redstart Graham Ekins 01

Black Redstart (Graham Ekins)

Steve Boswell, Research Surveyor for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Neptune Line ‘Neptune Aegli’ Southampton-Santander 14-21 June 2018

Posted 01 July 2018

Steve Boswell, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Day 1 South West 5-6 swell 1; Day 2 West 2 Portbury all day; Day3 South West 5-6 swell 1- 2; Day 4 South West 5-6 swell 1-2; Day 5 South West 1-2 swell 1; Day 6 South West 1-2 swell 1; Day 7 Variable 0-1

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 21
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 258
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 9
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 30
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 6

Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Auk sp. Alcidae 5
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 14
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 8
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 39
Gannet Morus bassanus 464
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 17
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 43
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 43
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 28
Larus sp. Larus sp. 13
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 44
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 5037
Razorbill Alca torda 1
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 12
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 4
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 60

Terrestrial Birds
Swallow Hirundo rustica 1
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus 1
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus 1
Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon Columba livia 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinereal 6

Storm Hector was hitting the Northern parts of Britain as I arrived at a drizzly and windy Southampton port to begin my seven-day survey. After a short walk from the car park I was aboard, shown to my cabin and treated to a cooked breakfast.

After waiting for the Pilot to disembark, I went up to the bridge to introduce myself to Captain Kovalenko and his crew and was able to start surveying as we approached Hurst Narrows. As we sailed south of the Isle of Wight the clouds cleared and I was then subjected to uncomfortable glare for the rest of the day. An Arctic Skua was seen as the Eddystone Lighthouse came into view.

Arctic Skua Mike Bamford 02

Arctic Skua (Mike Bamford)

Morning found us off Ilfracombe and I managed a couple on hours on the bridge. Manx Shearwater and Gannet being the main sightings.

Gannet Adrian Shephard 13

Gannet (Adrian Shephard)

We spent the entire day in Portbury dock so in the afternoon I walked the short distance to the International Seafarers Institute which opens at 13.00. Free WiFi is available and after a coffee I returned to the ship listening to a Sedge Warbler and Blackcap singing in a small reedy area, incredible in such a noisy industrial setting.

After an overnight sailing, I was surveying from 05.00 as we approached Rosslare.The first cetaceans were seen within the first few minutes when Common Dolphin came in to bow ride. Large flocks of Manx Shearwater were an impressive sight constantly flying across the bow until the harbour came into view, the swell and a sea state of five not having any effect on their progress.

Common Dolphin Rick Morris 08

Common Dolphin (Rick Morris)

In Rosslare I had time to walk part of the South Wexford coastal path on the beach which held Stonechat feeding on the seaweed with attendant Hooded Crow. Many very large Spider Crab were washed up on the shore.

After lunch, we departed for Santander with the swell up to two and a sea sate of six, cetacean viewing was difficult. In the evening fifteen nautical miles off Pendeen I was treated to the sight of vast numbers of Manx Shearwater and Gannet feeding with a Great Skua in the mix.

Day four heading south through the Bay of Biscay brought more cetacean sightings. Common Dolphin followed by Striped Dolphin and two Fin Whale. In mid-afternoon we came to a halt for four hours for maintenance with the swell still high!

Next day our Santander departure was delayed, but I was still able to survey for four hours before sunset. A swell was still running but cetaceans were still seen, including Common and Striped Dolphin and a nice group of Pilot Whale. Bird sightings were few but a Balearic Shearwater flew close.

Pilot Whale Adrian Shephard 03

Pilot Whale (Adrian Shephard)

By dawn the next day we had passed the Northern shelf and were heading towards the Channel Islands, a few Harbour Porpoise were seen and later in the day I noticed tail slapping dead ahead, as we approached the area a group of Bottlenose Dolphin came in to bow ride with spectacular leaps.

BND Peter Howlett 02

Bottlenose Dolphin (Peter Howlett)

Storm Petrel were seen and when we were 50 nautical miles off the Channel Islands and feeding parties of Gannet were observed heading out to sea.

Storm Petrel Peter Howlett 02

Storm Petrel (Peter Howlett)

The next morning mist and flat calm sea conditions greeted me on a slow approach to Le Havre which enabled me to see more Harbour Porpoise. A group of 6 Heron circled the bridge in the haze. I ended the survey when the Le Havre pilot arrived spectacularly by helicopter.

Grey Heron Adrian Shephard 01

Grey Heron (Adrian Shephard)

Overnight back to Southampton I had time in the morning for breakfast before thanking Captain Kovelenko and his crew for their hospitality. I disembarked at 06.00 and heard a Blackcap singing beside the car park!

Steve Boswell, Research Surveyor for MARINElife


MARINElife Survey Report: Neptune Line ‘Neptune Aegli’ Southampton-Santander 17-23 May 2018

Posted 24 May 2018

Adrian Shephard; Researcher Surveyor for MARINElife
Calm conditions and good visibility with occasional patchy fog with sea state 1-5

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncates 17
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 616
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 2
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 9
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 17
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 50
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 4
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 73
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 56
Unidentified Whale sp. (possible Humpback Whale) 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Unidentified Seal sp. 1

Other Species
Tuna sp. Thunnus sp.      4

Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 7
Auk sp. Alcidae 78
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 37
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/Sterna paradisaea 98
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 85
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 56
Gannet Morus bassanus 1095
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 100
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 378
Gull sp. Laridae 265
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 50
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 131
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 169
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2978
Puffin Fratercula arctica 34
Razorbill Alca torda 20
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 4
Tern sp.  Sternidae 6
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 3

Terrestrial Birds
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 2
Swallow Hirundo rustica 27
Turnstone Arenaria interpres 1
Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur 1
Pigeon sp. Columbidae 4
Reed Warbler Turdus iliacus 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea 1
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 13
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba yarrellii 1
House Martin Delichon urbicum 2

Day 1 - 2: Southampton - Portbury

This is a route I coordinate for MARINElife but was the first time I had been able to undertake the survey myself. I headed down to Southampton early and boarded not long after the ship arrived and was warmly greeted and provided with a very hearty and welcome breakfast.

After familiarising myself with the ship and meeting the captain, I awaited the departure. Once into the Solent, I commenced recording with a scattering of seabirds, primarily Black-headed and Herring Gull. Species diversity increased as we headed beyond the Isle of Wight and into the Channel taking in the Needles and Hurst Castle as we went.

Hurst Castle Adrian Shephard

Hurst Castle (Adrian Shephard)

Bird sighting evolved into Gannet and Guillemot but my first marine mammal wasn't until we were within sight of Portland Bill, with a succession of Harbour Porpoise as we headed in to Lyme Bay.

Conditions were calm and this even allowed for views of a few Tuna distantly erupting from the waters surface. With darkness approaching, I headed down to grab some sleep.

On the bridge by 5.30am and off Lands End, it wasn't long I spotted a Harbour Porpoise with others following later. A little later, a small group of Risso's Dolphin made an appearance with a calf in tow.

Rissos Dolphin Adrian Shephard 07

Risso's Dolphin (Adrian Shephard)

Around 9 o'clock, the action really started with group after group of Common Dolphin with hundreds of associated Manx Shearwater - lasting around 1.5 hours. The groups were feeding but the occasional animal made a beeline for the ship.

A number of Swallow were seen passing the ship with the occasional one circling as did a group of Collared Dove and a Pied Wagtail.

The action slowed as we headed for Portbury with the last thrill being a Grey Seal wrestling with an eel.

Grey Seal Adrian Shephard 05

Grey Seal with an eel (Adrian Shephard)

Day 3: Portbury to Rosslare

The ship sailed overnight, but I was up early and able to enjoy a few hours watching as we headed for Ireland and it was well worth the early start as the southern tip of Wales proved to be a hotspot for Manx Shearwater with many hundreds passing in front of the ship as they headed out into the Irish Sea. Some of the shearwaters were feeding and associated with a few groups were Common Dolphin.

Manx Shearwater Adrian Shephard 01

Manx Shearwaters (Adrian Shephard)

As we headed further across the Irish Sea, small groups of Puffin could be seen on the water and in flight - great to see these colourful characters.

With the Irish coast coming into sight, a disturbance to port alerted me to a Minke Whale surfacing twice as it passed down the side of the vessel.

I finished recording and headed down onto the deck as we came into port.

I heard the gentle calls of a pair of Black Guillemot which were flying around the vessel and they were able to perch on the side of the vessel as it headed towards its birth.

Black Guillemot Adrian Shephard 01

Black Guillemot (Adrian Shephard)

Day 3 & 4: Rosslare to Santander

We headed out mid-afternoon with a sea state which wasn't as good as our arrival, however, there was a brief encounter with a couple of Harbour Porpoise. Good numbers of Manx Shearwater were seen riding the waves with elegance and small groups of terns were seen feeding and even a fleeting glimpse of a couple of Storm Petrel with late evening bringing a couple of small groups of Common Dolphin.

Waking in the morning, I was on watch for 05:10 with sightings of Harbour Porpoise and Bottlenose Dolphin on the approach to the continental slope. As the waters beneath us deepened, we encountered groups of Striped and Common Dolphin and also a Fin Whale surfacing.

Soon after, groups of Pilot Whale appeared intermixed with groups of Common Dolphin with sightings continuing as we headed into the abyssal plain waters at 4,000 meters of depth.

Pilot Whale Adrian Shephard 05

Pilot Whale (Adrian Shephard)

We also gathered a number of resting migrant birds including Collared and Turtle Dove, Reed Warbler, House Martin, Swallow and a Turnstone.

Migrants Adrian Shephard 01

Migrants (Adrian Shephard)

Day 5 & 6: Santander to Le Havre

Leaving Santander after lunch, we headed back into the Bay of Biscay. Initial sightings of Bottlenose Dolphin gave way to the larger Fin Whale as the waters deepened, their exhalations of breath visible for some distance.

Fin Whale Adrian Shephard 01

Fin Whale (Adrian Shephard)

A huge distant splash alerted me to a large animal breaching clear of the water at some considerable distance ahead, the breaching repeating a total of 6 times in quick succession.

I couldn't confirm the species at the distance, but the animal was large - possibly a Humpback Whale which display this type of behaviour.

A Grey Heron passed ahead of the ship and very soon bird sightings reduced to the smallest trickle.

A brown shape on the surface of the water suddenly moved and it became apparent that it was a mother and calf Cuvier's Beaked Whale which had been resting on the surface - this species is very elusive and a real Biscay specialist.

Common Dolphin and Fin Whale sightings continued as the day wore on.

Awaking early, we were already on the shallower shelf water and sightings of marine mammals were minimal with just a couple of Harbour Porpoise recorded. Seabird numbers had again increased with a passage of Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Tern and Manx Shearwater moving north. Unfortunately there were also a large number of discarded helium balloons seen.

Balloons Adrian Shephard

Marine Litter from Helium Balloons (Adrian Shephard)

I concluded a long survey day at the Cherbourg Peninsula and headed for bed.

Day 7: Le Havre to Southampton

We  left around 5pm and after negotiating the port, we were out at sea with a few hours to survey. I spotted a couple of Harbour Porpoise just outside the harbour prior to heading up to the bridge and these proved to be the only marine mammals of this leg. There were a few Gannet, but even these dried up after a couple of hours.

Harbour Porpoise Adrian Shephard 10

Harbour Porpoise (Adrian Shephard)

I concluded the trip at 9pm and headed down to complete my data entry.

My thanks to Neptune Line as well as the captain and crew of Neptune Aegli for looking after me which undertaking the crossing.

Adrian Shephard; Research Surveyor for MARINElife


MARINElife Survey Report: Neptune Line ‘Neptune Aegli’ Southampton-Santander 19-26 April 2018

Posted 30 April 2018

Carol Farmer -Wright and Steve Boswell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Day 1 North West 5 becoming North East 2; Day 2 East 4-5 becoming variable; Day 3 South West 4-5; Day 4 North West 3-4; Day 5 East 3; Day 6 West 6

Marine mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 25
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 169
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 10
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus 4
Unidentified Cetacean sp. 2
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 4
Unidentified Seal sp. 1
Unidentified Shark sp. 1

Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 16
Auk sp. Alcidae 138
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/Sterna paradisaea 2
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 145
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Diver sp. Gaviidae 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 73
Gannet Morus bassanus 983
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 56
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 24
Guillemot Uria aalge 578
Gull sp. Laridae 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 74
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 200
Larus sp. Larus sp. 4
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 147
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 3114
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 1
Puffin Fratercula arctica 61
Razorbill Alca torda 85
Ringed Plover  Charadrius hiaticula 3
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 5
Skua sp. Stercorariidae 2
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 15

Terrestrial Birds seen at sea
Hoopoe Upupa epops 1
Swallow Hirundo rustica 16
Swift Apus apus 4
Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur 13
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 3
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus 3
Passerine sp. Passeriformes 2
Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus 1
Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon Columba livia 1
Sand Martin Riparia riparia 1
Linnet Carduelis cannabina 1
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla 1
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica 16

Carol and I arranged to meet at the Southampton dock berth. After boarding we were shown to our cabins and then given a safety briefing. Dinner followed before retiring early in readiness for a dawn start.

On the bridge at 06.00 we found ourselves just west of Portland eager to start recording. At 06.13 however fog engulfed the ship and we downed tools! Fortunately, the fog lifted quickly and recording began again. We were joined on the bridge by a Willow Warbler that decided to sit quite happily on the pen on our bird data sheet. As we approached Mounts Bay we had excellent views of four Risso's Dolphin which included two very white individuals. A large feeding flock of over 700 Manx Shearwater were sailed through during the afternoon, an incredible sight. The day ended with the return of thick fog engulfing the ship and therefore ending the day.

Rissos Dolphin Peter Howlett 03
Risso's Dolphin (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

We managed to survey for a brief time before our arrival in Rosslare, good views of Puffin sat on the water in pairs with a lovely close fly past of 9 birds. Black Guillemot, Hooded Crow and Rock Pipit were observed in the port area as we left for Portbury. During the afternoon period, we recorded 24 different marine mammal sightings consisting of 99 individuals. Grey Seal, Harbour Porpoise, Bottlenose Dolphin and Common Dolphin. One juvenile Common Dolphin was observed to be melanistic.

Common Dolphin Carol Farmer Wright 05a
Common Dolphin Inc Melanistic (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Leaving Portbury at 09.00 heading for Falmouth we watched 4 Roe Deer feeding close to the marsh shore. We encountered challenging glare for most of the day. A flock of migrating Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel in addition to the usual seabird sightings. As evening approached we enjoyed good views of the Scilly Isles and the Sevenstones light vessel.

After bunkering overnight outside Falmouth we headed towards the Bay of Biscay and Carol managed to catch up on data input. We recordered 3 Skua species with a close Pomarine Skua fly past. Frustratingly darkness fell as we approached the Northern shelf break with a Swallow looking for a place to roost on board.

Pomarine Skua Mike Bailey 01
Pomarine Skua (Library photo: Mike Bailey)

First light saw us looking out to heavy low cloud over a dark sea. We saw the large fin of a shark species very close to ship. We were three hours from Santander when migrant birds began to appear with the highlights being a flock of 13 Turtle Dove and incredibly a Hoopoe!

Hoopoe Carol Farmer Wright 01a
Hoopoe (Carol Farmer-Wright)

On the approach to the port we encountered a slow-moving group of Bottlenose Dolphin. A quick walk ashore produced a Peregrine catching a Pigeon and a number of singing Black Redstart. After departure we managed a few hours surveying but darkness fell as we approached the edge of the Santander Canyon.

Morning saw us north of the Northern shelf break. We had good views of a flock of Arctic Tern and over 100 Common Tern on their journey north. About 30 miles from the Channel Islands many Gannet were feeding and small groups of Great Skua were in attendance.

Common Tern Graham Ekins 01

Common Tern (Library photo: Graham Ekins)

The following day was spent in Le Havre with a fine drake Eider in the harbour. A Great Black-backed Gull was sat on eggs on top of one of our docking pillars. Having eaten our last dinner, we thanked Oleksandr, the cook, for some enjoyable meals.

Carol Farmer -Wright and Steve Boswell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Neptune Line ‘Neptune Aegli’ Southampton-Santander 8-14 February 2018

Posted 18 February 2018

Philip Dutt and Stephen Hedley; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Outward - ranging from overcast, poor visibility with a westerly wind force 7 to a calmer wind force 4 with excellent visibility on the second day.Return -brighter, good visibility with glare at times: north-westerly wind force 8/9.  Similar conditions to start on the second day but dense fog by mid-day which didn't clear until near sunset.

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 104
Unidentified Dolphin Sp 20
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 147
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 18
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 27
Lesser black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 7
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 2
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 19
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 2
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 100
Black-headed Gull Croicocephalus ridibundus 6
Larus Sp 82
Gull Sp 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 58
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellate 4
Cormorant Phalacracorax carbo 2

Stephen and I arrived at the Southampton Docks car park mid-morning and walked to berth 105 to board the MS Neptune Aegli car carrier.  The vessel was still loading but sailed for Portbury on schedule just after midday.

We did a few hours surveying before dark at 5.15 and left the bridge shortly after we passed Weymouth.  The following morning, we began surveying just north of Lynmouth on the Devon coast well on the way into Portbury.  As we approached the lock gates to the inner harbour we could see large numbers of Shelduck feeding on the mud flats and one Oystercatcher.  We moored just before midday.

Shelduck Adrian Shephard 01

Shelduck (Adrian Shephard)

We had a few hours ashore at Portbury and after visiting the Seaman's Centre we explored the wildlife corridor which connects the shore with the hinterland between the car parking areas.  There is some reedbeds and the remnants of some lagoons.  Teal, Long-tailed Tit, Bullfinch, a solitary Goldfinch were spotted amongst the blackthorn hedge, willow and birch scrub.

The next morning crossing to Rosslare we had several sightings of Common Dolphin (19 animals), one Grey Seal and a Red-throated Diver. The coastal habitat around the port looked promising and easy to access but unfortunately there was no time to explore it.    On the way out, we spotted one one Harbour Porpoise and had more sightings of Common Dolphin (77 animals) as they raced in to ride the ship's bow wave.

Common Dolphin Steve McAusland 01

Common Dolphin (Steve McAusland)

Sunday morning found us west of St. Nazaire with the calmest weather we had had but there was still a swell of more than 2 metres.  We had regular sightings of Gannet and Kittiwake and our first Common Dolphin sighting at 9.15 a.m. when we were in 150 m. depth.  We were watching the depth  contours hoping for some larger cetaceans as we neared the abyssal plain. We reached 4000 m depth at 14.45.  An hour later a small pod of unidentified dolphins (ca. 20) were seen about half a kilometre off the starboard beam heading purposefully north, presumably on a hunt.

We arrived at Santander early the next morning.  We ventured out into a very cold Spain with snow on the Asturian mountains.  We had to be back on the ship for 11am and  there wasn't time to access the area outside the dock.  Birds spotted were Meadow Pipit and Pied Wagtail, everything else possibly being scared off by the port's recording of gull alarm calls keep them off the new cars.

We left Santander early and headed for a wild-looking sea beyond the harbour.  Large breakers coming in on the rock where we had been expecting to see Shag and Cormorant gathered.  Yellow-legged Gull, Guillemot, Cormorant were seen on the way out.

YL Gull ad Mike Bailey 01

Yellow-legged Gull (Mike Bailey)

The weather looked threatening with grey cloud, a 4/5 m. swell and a sea state of 8.  It got a bit brighter but remained rough for the rest of the day.

By 14:30 we were into deeper waters (1000m.), dropped off the Santander canyon and were at  3000m by  15:15.  Stephen spotted a Cuvier's Beaked Whale masquerading as a log.  In fact, there were 2 and one of them blew just as they passed quite close to the starboard side.  We were hopeful of seeing a lot more in what would be our last opportunity on the deeper waters but the spotting conditions were not favourable. We did have one more Common Dolphin sighting close in before the end of the day.

Cuviers BW Russ Neave 01

Cuvier's Beaked Whale (Russell Neave)

The next morning we went to  the bridge just before entering the Traffic Separation zone off the Iles d'Ouessant.  Wind speeds were 8/9 most of the time (gusting to 50 knots, but we stayed on the bridge to survey the birds at least.   This was the first time we saw any fishing boats for the whole trip.  We had steady numbers of Great Skua, Gannet, Kittiwake and larger gulls, some of them following the boats.  Just north of Roscoff, 2 Common Dolphin came in to bow-ride.

Great Skua Mark Darlaston 01

Great Skua (Mark Darlaston)

We arrived overnight in Le Havre and after several rough nights, we had a reasonable night's sleep.  After going thought the harbour lock the following morning we finally left the Le Havre breakwater at 3.15 pm.  The wind speed quickly got up to Bf.7 again and by 5 pm. the light was too poor to survey.

Our thanks to Captain Georgios Xylouris, the crew and to the cook, Oleg Krasovskyi for keeping us fed and watered throughout the trip. 

Philip Dutt and Stephen Hedley; Research Surveyors for MARINElife


MARINElife Survey Report: Neptune Line ‘Neptune Aegli’ Portbury-Santander 8-15 December 2017

Posted 17 December 2017

Carol Farmer-Wright and Sarah Hodgson; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 1
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 30
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5

Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 2
Common Gull Larus canus 6
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 3
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 22
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 18
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 27
Guillemot Uria aalge 23
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 48
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 148
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 2
Razorbill Alca torda 2
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 2
Unidentified auk sp. 160
Unidentified gull sp. 12
Unidentified Larus sp. 55
Unidentified skua sp. 2

Day 1
Weather: Sea state 5-6, Wind NW F8-9. Sunny with clouds.

Once the Neptune Aegli arrived in port we were quickly boarded and shown to our cabins.  After a safety briefing, it was time for bed.  The next morning arrived with lots of sunshine, but a chilly breeze.  Whilst we were enjoying breakfast, the crew were working hard to load the ship ready for departure.  We left Southampton docks at approximately 10:30am and began our survey effort once safely through Southampton Water.

The Needles

The Needles (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Seabird sightings trickled through during the day with Guillemot and Kittiwake most frequently sighted.

Our first cetacean sightings came just south of Portland Bill with a small group of Common Dolphin approaching the vessel.  It looked as if they might bow-ride, but just as quickly as they had appeared they were gone.

All in all, a good start to this week-long survey.

Day 2
Weather: Sea state 0-2, Wind NW F2-3, Cloudy

At first light we could see Rosslare in the distance, but decided to begin surveying if only for a short period.  It turned out to be well worth it and we had a very productive 50 minutes.


It seemed as if we our arrival had coincided with the seabird rush hour.  An almost constant stream of auks, gulls and Kittiwake were leaving their night time roosts to head out to forage at sea.  Other birds of note included a couple each of Red-throated and Black-throated Diver.

BT Diver Adrian Shephard 01

Black-throated Diver (Adrian Shephard)

Marine mammals were present too and we glimpsed several Harbour Porpoise.  Just before entering the port, we passed a departing Irish Ferries ship which was being accompanied by a bow-riding Bottlenose Dolphin and a nearby Grey Seal was enjoying breakfast.

Day 3
Weather: Sea state 3-4, Wind WNW - W, F4-6, rain clearing.

We departed Santander in the rain, but this didn't seem to deter the Gannet which we observed plunge diving just outside the harbour entrance.

The rain eased and the sky cleared with the exception of a few squalls producing some magnificent rainbows, which we seemingly passed straight through!

Rain & Rainbows

Rain & Rainbows (Sarah Hodgson)

Kittiwake, both adults and juveniles, were the most numerous bird recorded on this leg of our journey which took us out over the deep waters of Biscay.

Day 4
Weather: Sea state 4-6, Wind SW - WNW F4-8, mist & fog clearing.

As we slept the ship had continued north through Biscay and day 4 of the survey started off the west coast of Brittany.  Whilst the sea state was good, the mist and rain closed in so viewing conditions were not optimal.  Throughout the morning, we recorded a few Kittiwake and auks.

After a short break for lunch, conditions had improved and we were sighting large numbers of Great Skua on the wing.  It was interesting to see two groups of 4 of these robust seabirds rafting on the water in close proximity to each other, which had us wondering what the collective noun for Great Skua is? An ambush perhaps, as they wait to rob their next unsuspecting victim of its last meal.

Great Skua Adrian Shephard 05

Great Skua (Adrian Shephard)

During the afternoon, we also spotted several small groups of energetic Common Dolphin.  These groups, some of which contained juveniles, approached the vessel at speed, leaping clear of the water giving us great views of the distinctive patterning along their flanks.

Common Dolphin Adrian Shephard 17

Common Dolphin (Adrian Shephard)

This was to be the last day of surveying on our voyage, as the next leg was to take us from Le Havre back to Southampton under the cover of darkness.  We would both like to express our thanks to Captain Georgios Xylouris and his crew for their warm welcome and generous hospitality whilst on board Neptune Aegli.



Santander (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Carol Farmer-Wright & Sarah Hodgson, Research Surveyors for MARINElife

MARINElife Survey Report: Neptune Line ‘Neptune Aegli’ Portbury-Santander 24-30 November 2017

Posted 04 December 2017

Jack Lucas and Steve Boswell; Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Friday: Portbury Port  Saturday: Sea State 1-3.Winds N.W. Sunny  Sunday: Sea State 2.Winds N.W. Part Cloudy
Monday: Sea State 0-1. Winds E. Part Cloudy  Tuesday: Sea State 4-6.Winds N.W. Heavy rain squalls 2 metre swell
Wednesday: Le Havre Port  Thursday: Southampton Port

Marine Mammals
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 757
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 29
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 10

Gannet Morus bassanus 106
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 20
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 19
Razorbill Alca torda 118
Guillemot Uria aalge 458
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 138
Unidentified Auk sp. 176
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 96
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 9
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 11
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 23
Great-blacked Backed Gull Larus marinus 25
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Unidentified Loon sp. 2
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 6
Unidentified Wader sp. 1
Unidentified Larus sp. 5
Puffin Fratercula arctica 3
Leach's Storm Petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 3
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 1
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 12
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 24
Balaeric Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 6
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea 1

Prior to arrival Jack and I arranged to meet at Bristol Temple Meads station and share a taxi to the port. We were driven through the port gate to the ship and walked on board where we were shown to our cabins and then had a coffee with Captain Georgios Xylouris.

With darkness falling over the Bristol Channel, we watched Captain Xylouris skillfully manoeuver Neptune Aegli through the narrow lock of Royal Portbury Dock from the bridge and, after our delicious evening meal, we retired to our very large comfortable cabins.

First light saw us approaching Rosslare where we found ourselves sailing through hundreds of Auk and good numbers of Kittiwake. Whilst we waited to load we saw 4 Hooded Crow and a flock of 34 Great Black-backed Gull. A Grey Seal was performing just outside the berth, seemingly trying to catch Gulls!

The following morning saw us rounding the Brittany coast and heading towards the Northern Bay of Biscay. Seabird sightings were constant with the best being a very close Leach's Storm Petrel. Common Dolphin were seen in small groups approaching the ship at regular intervals but as we came towards the Northern shelf sightings began to increase in number.

Common Dolphin 01 Jack Lucas

Common Dolphin (Jack Lucas)

Then as we started to leave the 250 metre contour towards the deep water, we encountered over 500 Common Dolphin in a series of large groups, a few Striped Dolphin followed by a magnificent close view of a Fin Whale, the most productive hour of our trip.  From just this day alone we encountered 28 different groups of cetaceans!

Striped Dolphin Jack Lucas

Striped Dolphin (Jack Lucas)

After watching a stunning sunrise over Santander, we managed a short walk around the port area observing many Yellow-legged Gull, 2 Chiffchaff and a Black Redstart. As we left through the stunning Santander Bay at midday, we could see the snow-covered peaks of the Picos de Europa mountains bathed in sunlight. We sailed close to a group of 24 wintering Sandwich Tern. A sea state between 0 and 1 with no swell and fantastic visibility saw us approaching the Southern shelf edge. We recorded some groups of Common Dolphin before the shelf edge and, as we progressed over the canyon edge, we saw Striped Dolphin and a Fin Whale blow. Birds of note were 1 Cory's Shearwater and 7 Balearic Shearwater. We were heading across the 3000 metre contour where we watched an intense orange sunset.

Fin Whale Jack Lucas

Fin Whale (Jack Lucas)

Morning found us in challenging sea conditions with regular heavy squalls. We did manage to see lots of small groups of Common Dolphin throughout the day and had good views of Great Skua. The day ended as we approached the Channel Islands.

We were docked in Le Havre at first light and were greeted with heavy rain which lasted for most of the day. We used the time to catch up on data recording. The bird highlights in the dock consisted of over 200 Coot, 35 Little Egret, 5 Red Breasted Merganser, 55 Great Crested Grebe and 2 Black-necked Grebe. Darkness had fallen by the time we made our way through the Ecluse lock which had 250 Black-headed Gull roosting in the vicinity.

BN Grebe Jack Lucas

Blacked-necked Grebe (Jack Lucas)

After our last breakfast on board in Southampton we thanked the crew for being so interested in our work, particularly the cook Sergiy who kept us well fed with varied fresh food three times a day.

We had only a 20-minute walk from the ship to the centre of Southampton and, over a coffee, Jack and I both agreed that it had been a wonderful 7 days and that the route will produce many sightings as the season progresses.

Sunset Jack Lucas

Sunset (Jack Lucas)

Jack Lucas and Steve Boswell, Research Surveyors for MARINElife