MARINElife Survey Report: Neptune Line ‘Neptune Aegli’ Southampton-Santander 20-25 October 2018

Steve Boswell; Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Day 1   North East force 2-3 swell 1 metre
Day 2   North West force 4
Day3    North East force 6 swell  2-3 metre
Day 4   North East force 6 swell 1 metre
Day 5   North East moving to South West force 2-3

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 3
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 343 
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1   
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 1
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 15 
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1         
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 40               
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 14          

Auk sp. Alcidae 5
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 6
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 60
Common Gull Larus canus 12
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 4
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 1200
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 29
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 283
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 32
Guillemot Uria aalge 34
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 62
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 37
Larus sp. Larus sp. 43
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 30
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Razorbill Alca torda 7
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 8
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 1
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 18

Terrestrial Birds
Barn Owl Tyto Alba 1
Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus 1
Skylark Alauda arvensis 12
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos 2
Starling Sturnus vulgaris 1
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis 4
Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba yarrellii 1
Goldcrest Regulus regulus 2
Brent Goose Branta bernicla 11
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs 4
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita 1

I boarded Neptune Aegli at 22.00 and introduced myself to Captain Georgios Xylouris before being shown to my cabin. The ship sailed at 02.00.

After a large breakfast, I headed up to the bridge at daybreak to find that we were off Brixham. The sea state was good and with the light behind us I had great viewing conditions. Groups of Common Dolphin were seen and then four groups of Pilot Whale. A very close Minke Whale ended a busy session.

Minke Adrian Shephard 04

Minke Whale (Adrian Shephard)

A group of Herring Gull were mobbing something and as they came nearer and nearer, an unfortunate Barn Owl revealed itself out at sea and in full sunshine. At 16.00 we turned the corner around Lands End and and I watched the green flash as the sunset at 18.30 before heading down for dinner.

Most of Sunday was spent in Portbury, we set sail at 16.00 bound for Santander as Rosslare was not being visited on this trip. I managed a couple of uneventful hours before darkness fell as we sailed between Steepholm and Flatholm.

Overnight the wind increased to between 20 and 30 knots and a large swell was running. Morning saw us 30 miles off the Brittany coast near the island of Ouessant.  As the sun rose, I was greeted with low glare. As we approached the northern shelf, good numbers of dolphins were seen including a nice tight packed group of Striped Dolphin. A spectacular sight in this area was nearly 300 Great Shearwater flying close to the bow in a fifteen minute period.

Great Shearwater Peter Howlett 02

Great Shearwaters (Peter Howlett)

The following morning we berthed in Santander. As it was low tide I headed to the estuary directly across from the dock. A raised platform gave good views of waders and ducks with the highlight being 10 feeding Spoonbill. After previously being fooled by the raptor scarer on a lamp standard, I was amused to see a real-life Peregrine sat on a standard next to the scarer!

Peregrine Peter Jones 01

Peregrine Falcon (Peter Jones)

We departed at 12.30 for the 22 hour sailing to Le Havre. A second owl of the survey was seen as we headed into the Southern Bay in the form of a Short-eared Owl. A flock of 12 Skylark flew towards the coast. The wind soon increased and viewing was very difficult, no cetaceans were seen on this section of the survey.

The sea calmed overnight and Wednesday I arrived on the bridge to see better viewing conditions. Just 30 miles west of Alderney before we entered the Channel shipping lane many small groups of Common Dolphin were seen but sea bird numbers were quite low.

Common Dolphin Jack Lucas 01

Common Dolphin (Jack Lucas)

Thursday was spent in Le Havre where a Black Redstart spent the day on the rocks close to the ship. 300 Coot were feeding in the estuary and I observed feeding frenzies of gulls and Cormorant. A short amount of time to survey after leaving port produced a Harbour Porpoise. I headed down for yet another large meal, thanked the crew and Captain for all their assistance and had a few hours sleep before disembarking in Southampton early Friday morning.

Black Redstart Graham Ekins 01

Black Redstart (Graham Ekins)

Steve Boswell, Research Surveyor for MARINElife