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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