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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

Seabirds
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