MARINElife Survey Report: Neptune Line ‘Neptune Aegli’ Southampton-Santander 17-23 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

Seabirds
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