Sightings Archives: December 2017

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