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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