MARINElife Survey Report: Neptune Line ‘Neptune Aegli’ Southampton-Santander 14-21 June 2018

Steve Boswell, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Weather: Day 1 South West 5-6 swell 1; Day 2 West 2 Portbury all day; Day3 South West 5-6 swell 1- 2; Day 4 South West 5-6 swell 1-2; Day 5 South West 1-2 swell 1; Day 6 South West 1-2 swell 1; Day 7 Variable 0-1

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 21
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 258
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 5
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 9
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 30
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 6

Seabirds
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Auk sp. Alcidae 5
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 1
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 14
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 8
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 39
Gannet Morus bassanus 464
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 17
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 43
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 43
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 28
Larus sp. Larus sp. 13
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 44
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 5037
Razorbill Alca torda 1
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 12
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 4
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 60

Terrestrial Birds
Swallow Hirundo rustica 1
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus 1
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus 1
Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon Columba livia 1
Grey Heron Ardea cinereal 6

Storm Hector was hitting the Northern parts of Britain as I arrived at a drizzly and windy Southampton port to begin my seven-day survey. After a short walk from the car park I was aboard, shown to my cabin and treated to a cooked breakfast.

After waiting for the Pilot to disembark, I went up to the bridge to introduce myself to Captain Kovalenko and his crew and was able to start surveying as we approached Hurst Narrows. As we sailed south of the Isle of Wight the clouds cleared and I was then subjected to uncomfortable glare for the rest of the day. An Arctic Skua was seen as the Eddystone Lighthouse came into view.

Arctic Skua Mike Bamford 02

Arctic Skua (Mike Bamford)

Morning found us off Ilfracombe and I managed a couple on hours on the bridge. Manx Shearwater and Gannet being the main sightings.

Gannet Adrian Shephard 13

Gannet (Adrian Shephard)

We spent the entire day in Portbury dock so in the afternoon I walked the short distance to the International Seafarers Institute which opens at 13.00. Free WiFi is available and after a coffee I returned to the ship listening to a Sedge Warbler and Blackcap singing in a small reedy area, incredible in such a noisy industrial setting.

After an overnight sailing, I was surveying from 05.00 as we approached Rosslare.The first cetaceans were seen within the first few minutes when Common Dolphin came in to bow ride. Large flocks of Manx Shearwater were an impressive sight constantly flying across the bow until the harbour came into view, the swell and a sea state of five not having any effect on their progress.

Common Dolphin Rick Morris 08

Common Dolphin (Rick Morris)

In Rosslare I had time to walk part of the South Wexford coastal path on the beach which held Stonechat feeding on the seaweed with attendant Hooded Crow. Many very large Spider Crab were washed up on the shore.

After lunch, we departed for Santander with the swell up to two and a sea sate of six, cetacean viewing was difficult. In the evening fifteen nautical miles off Pendeen I was treated to the sight of vast numbers of Manx Shearwater and Gannet feeding with a Great Skua in the mix.

Day four heading south through the Bay of Biscay brought more cetacean sightings. Common Dolphin followed by Striped Dolphin and two Fin Whale. In mid-afternoon we came to a halt for four hours for maintenance with the swell still high!

Next day our Santander departure was delayed, but I was still able to survey for four hours before sunset. A swell was still running but cetaceans were still seen, including Common and Striped Dolphin and a nice group of Pilot Whale. Bird sightings were few but a Balearic Shearwater flew close.

Pilot Whale Adrian Shephard 03

Pilot Whale (Adrian Shephard)

By dawn the next day we had passed the Northern shelf and were heading towards the Channel Islands, a few Harbour Porpoise were seen and later in the day I noticed tail slapping dead ahead, as we approached the area a group of Bottlenose Dolphin came in to bow ride with spectacular leaps.

BND Peter Howlett 02

Bottlenose Dolphin (Peter Howlett)

Storm Petrel were seen and when we were 50 nautical miles off the Channel Islands and feeding parties of Gannet were observed heading out to sea.

Storm Petrel Peter Howlett 02

Storm Petrel (Peter Howlett)

The next morning mist and flat calm sea conditions greeted me on a slow approach to Le Havre which enabled me to see more Harbour Porpoise. A group of 6 Heron circled the bridge in the haze. I ended the survey when the Le Havre pilot arrived spectacularly by helicopter.

Grey Heron Adrian Shephard 01

Grey Heron (Adrian Shephard)

Overnight back to Southampton I had time in the morning for breakfast before thanking Captain Kovelenko and his crew for their hospitality. I disembarked at 06.00 and heard a Blackcap singing beside the car park!

Steve Boswell, Research Surveyor for MARINElife