MARINElife Survey Report: Neptune Line ‘Neptune Aegli’ Southampton-Santander 24 January -1 February 2019

Carol Farmer-Wright and Simon Boswell; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Marine Animals
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 36
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1

Seabirds
Auk sp. Alcidae 34
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 28
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 1
Common Gull Larus canus 26
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 14
Diver sp. Gaviidae 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 2
Gannet Morus bassanus 240
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 44
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 1
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 28
Guillemot Uria aalge 755
Gull sp. Laridae 3
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 68
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 408
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 154
Razorbill Alca torda 9
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellate 5

Terrestrial Birds
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 1

Survey day 1
Wind South West to North North Westerly Force 1-6 Sea state 0-3
Weather Overcast, mainly dry, occasional light rain
Visibility poor to good.

This was to be the first Southampton to Santander survey this year.

We met at 8am at Southampton docks and proceeded to the ship. The temperature had dropped below freezing the night before and so we walked briskly to the vessel to go through all the security checks and take our belongings to our cabins. We began our survey at noon as the ship exited Southampton water at Calshot spit.

As we entered the Solent we started to record Great and Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, and a few Common Gull. Cormorant appeared nearer the Needles on the west end of the Isle of Wight.

Needles_Steve Boswell

Needles (Steve Boswell)

Leaving the Isle of Wight behind we started to see Auks, namely Guillemot and Razorbill; these became more numerous as we passed by Durleston Head, a breeding area they will return to later in the year. Eventually we started to see Gannet and our highlight of the day was recording a Red-throated Diver passing the ship, its drab winter colours and drooped head confirming its identity. A further Diver species was recorded during the day, but light and distance prevented an exact identification.

We finished our survey in the central Lyme Bay area. The light faded before we had a chance to record any dolphin, so we will have to wait for another day.

Survey day 2
Wind West to South South westerly Force 3-5 Sea state 2
Weather Overcast and misty with decreasing cloud cover
Visibility poor to moderate.

Daybreak found us heading up the Bristol Channel. We started surveying at 8am and managed to work for just over two hours before manoeuvres towards Portbury lock brought our efforts to an end. No cetaceans were seen; the only dark shapes that were seen "logging" turned out to be logs! The pilot advised that many tree branches and trunks had been picked up by the Severn owing to the recent high tides and they were being transported by the current to the sea. Birds were few, the majority of sightings being made as commercial vessels passed by on the outbound side of the channel. Kittiwake, Common Gull, Herring Gull and Black-headed Gull were following each vessel in small numbers hoping for the wake to bring up food from the depths.

Carol FW_Steve Boswell

Carol Surveying (Steve Boswell)

We stopped surveying as we waited our turn to enter Portbury Lock. After the survey as our vessel slowed, we were able to see (but did not record) the same bird species that were following the other vessels. About 50 birds were behind us all hoping for food to appear in our wake. Sadly no cetaceans were recorded this day.

Survey day 3
Wind South Westerly Force 6-7 Sea state 5-3
Weather Overcast
Visibility moderate.

As the previous day, we were ready to survey at 08.00 with a couple of hours available before arrival in Rosslare. Large groups of auks were on the move, all Guillemot with no sightings of Razorbill. A Great Northern Diver gave a close fly past just before a Grey Seal came into view.

In the environs of Rosslare harbour, a Hooded Crow was evident along with the usual shorebirds.

We were on the bridge for departure and watched the late afternoon sunlight shining through the clouds on the beautiful Irish coastline.

Survey day 4
Wind North Westerly Force 8-6 Sea state 7-6 with a 3-metre swell
Weather Moderate cloud with sunny spells and continual glare
Visibility good.

Again, we were on the bridge surveying at 08.00 after a cooked breakfast and plenty of coffee.

Conditions were challenging with a heavy swell which was added to in the form of strong glare that continued throughout the day.

A group of Lesser Black-backed Gull were in attendance keeping us company for the first few hours. Kittiwake were in evidence in good numbers and continued as we headed into deep water, well south of their breeding areas. One unfortunate individual was being pursued by four Great Skua.

An hour later it was a Lesser Black-backed Gulls turn to be mobbed by another Great Skua, the flight of the gull was fast and furious as it managed to avoid the Skuas attack.

We recorded a couple of sightings of Common Dolphin and we were expectant as at around 14.00 we arrived at the shelf edge. Alas, no further encounters were to be had on this day. Near the days end we witnessed an unusual cloud formation. These clouds used to be a sign to sailors that a deep depression was approaching and that vessels should move rapidly away from the area.

Clouds_Steve Boswell

Cloud Formations (Steve Boswell)

Concluding the day with our evening meal and a well-deserved rest before our arrival in Santander the following morning.

Santander 29/01/2019 and 30/01/2019

We had the opportunity to go ashore as departure was scheduled for the following day. The walk into Santander took one hour and time was spent strolling around the pleasant city.

The next morning dawned with bright sunshine and temperatures climbed to a respectable 13 degrees. We watched the interestingly shaped car carrier City of St. Petersburg arrive in the afternoon with the backdrop of the snow-covered mountains.

As darkness fell a gull roost on the quayside contained a mixture of Lesser Black-backed Gull and Yellow- legged Gull contained over 300 birds. A lovely fly past of 28 Little Egret heading up the estuary was seen just as the light faded.

Port & Gulls_Steve Boswell

Quay & Gulls (Steve Boswell)

We departed at 8pm and sailed slowly past the lights of Santander before heading out into the bay.

Survey day 5
Wind W Force 6, increasing to NW Force 9 in squalls reducing to SW Force 6
Sea state 4 morning increasing to 6 by midday reducing to 3 at days end.
Swell 3 metres reduced to 2 by days end.
Weather Mostly cloudy with occasional sun and squally showers, one of sleet.
Visibility good to moderate in showers.

This was to be our last day crossing Biscay. By daybreak we were on the northern shelf-break with 840 metres of water below us. We had therefore been unable to survey the abyssal plain this time but instead had an opportunity to once again see life on the Armoricain Shelf and Celtic Sea areas abutting France.

The day began before 8 a.m. with many Black-backed Gull, Lesser and a few Great accompanying the ship. Many of the gulls remained behind the ship to scavenge in the wake and take advantage of the air currents. On occasions they would move forward of the bridge so that we were able to count them in our survey. An unofficial count at 9:18 a.m. evidenced 238 gulls around the vessel, only some of those were eligible to be included in the survey. These had all dispersed by 10:00 a.m.

Other birds we encountered in the morning were Kittiwake in good numbers, adult Gannet moving north towards their breeding grounds, a brief period when auks were seen and a solitary Fulmar. The afternoon brought more of the same species with the addition of over a 15-minute period 12 Great Skua looking quite threatening in the fading light.

We were fortunate to encounter six groups of Common Dolphin during the day, a total of 30 animals four juveniles amongst their number. All groups headed towards the bow to bow-ride, each juvenile keeping close to their mother.

Common Dolphin Carol Farmer Wright 01

Common Dolphin (Carol Farmer-Wright)

We ended the day having experienced rain, seen rainbows and even experienced a sleet shower but retired to our cabins having enjoyed a good days surveying.

Survey day 6
Wind SSW force 4 to SSE force 3 with Force 6 in rain showers       
Sea state 2-3 with no swell
Weather Rain showers initially at dawn becoming dry after one hour with continual glare.
Visibility moderate to good.

We were able to survey for 4 hours in the morning before we entered Le Havre. The spectacular arrival of the Pilot by helicopter coincided with the also spectacular feeding frenzy of Gannet, Kittiwake, and Guillemot.

Pilot Arrival_Steve Boswell

Pilot Arrival (Steve Boswell)

As we concluded the survey, we noted that we had just crossed the Greenwich Meridian line. In Le Havre as the light faded, we were fortunate to have a Peregrine Falcon alight on one of the neighbouring cranes.

Our thanks as always go to Neptune Line for their continuing support. Thanking Captain Pasenchenko and his crew for keeping us well fed and informed, we reflected on another interesting survey.

Steve Boswell and Carol Farmer-Wright, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)