Recent Sightings

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