MARINElife Survey Report: Neptune Line ‘Neptune Aegli’ Southampton-Santander-Portbury 1 - 5 September 2019

Carol Farmer-wright and Maggie Gamble, Research Surveyors for MARINElife
Weather: Outbound: Sea state 0-4. mostly sun  Return: Sea state 4-7.  Cloudy with rain

Marine Mammals
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 485
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 88
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 1
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 3
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 19
Sei Whale Balaenoptera borealis 2
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 2
Unidentified whale sp. 38
Unidentified Cetacean sp. 2
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 93

Seabirds
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 4
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 8
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 127
Gannet Morus bassanus 635
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 19
Herring Gull   Larus argentatus 150
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 4
Unidentified Larus Gull sp. 3
Arctic Skua  Stercorarius parasiticus 2
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 6
Guillemot Uria aalge   14
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 9
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 139
Manx  Shearwater Puffinus puffinus358
Shearwater sp 554
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus3
Razorbill Alca torda 2
Puffin  Fratercula arctica 1
Auk sp.   Alcidae
Storm Petrel   Hydrobates pelagicus 3

Other birds
Robin Erithacus rubecula 1
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica 5
Warbler sp. Sylviidae  2
Whimbrel  Numenius phaeopus 2
Rock Dove/Feral Pidgeon Columba livia 7

Fish
Tuna Thunnus sp.  5
Ocean Sunfish  Mola mola 1
Small Shark sp. 1

Day One
We were welcomed aboard Neptune Aegli around midday and after lunch we started surveying shortly before leaving Southampton Water. In Southampton water the light was difficult because of glare and very quiet regarding sightings of sea birds and no mammals were seen.

Day Two
Next morning found us off the Cornish coast near Boscastle en-route to Rosslare. The visibility was good, with a sea state of four. We soon picked up Gannet and Fulmar. Nearer to the Irish coast we spotted the distant blows of three large Rorqual whales.

Rorqual Carol Farmer Wright 01

Large Rorqual (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Bird numbers increased with Fulmar, several Manx Shearwater, small parties of terns and a pair of Whimbrel making an appearance.  A small party of Common Dolphin made a determined dash for the bow and Carol spotted a Minke Whale as it slinked past. An Hour out of Rosslare we picked up our first Kittiwake of the survey so far - a juvenile.

Common Dolphin Carol Farmer Wright 07

Common Dolphin (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Leaving Rosslare harbour later that day the area seemed very full of feeding seabirds and two Artic Skua were spotted harassing the a feeding group of Kittiwake and Terns. Heading south again on a parallel course to the morning we encountered another group of Common Dolphin intent on enjoying our bow wave and spotted four Fin Whale in the same general area as "before".

Day Three
Dawn of day three and we accessed the bridge off the coast of France in a hundred meters water. All day we encountered a lot of feeding activity over a large area across the northern bay until we reached the abyssal plain an hour before sunset. With a sea state of zero at times and great visibility we could pick up blows towards the horizon - whale watching heaven! Groups of feeding Gannet or Common Dolphin were sighted and a small fish boil just ahead of the bow. A single bottling Grey Seal ahead seemed blissfully oblivious to our imminent arrival and later the flopping fin of an Ocean Sunfish sailed past on our portside. During this day we were heading south across the shelf into deeper water and we were soon spotting more large whales, several confirmed as Fin including one with a juvenile. Our attention was caught by one of two Fin Whale suddenly accelerating to achieve an impressive speed and then seemingly turn one hundred and eighty degrees about, onto it's side - they were surface lunge feeding. Later we spotted a couple of animals which we thought could be Sei Whale from the shape of the dorsal fin and general behaviour.

We also encountered the only group of Pilot Whale of the survey, an unusually small group of only three animals consisting of a male, female and a juvenile. They seemed to be actively feeding on the surface as their mouths were visibly open at times. Carol spotted a large jellyfish near-by, which is known to be one of their less preferred prey items.

Pilot Whale 01 Carol Farmer Wright

Pilot Whale (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Day Four
Dawn of day four and were still just over the Abyssal plain approaching the canyons off Santander. Here we spotted another Fin Whale and some very distant splashes which were possibly Stripped Dolphin. A nearer small group of small dolphin species and close by them Carol briefly spotted a couple of Beaked Whale, one of them breaching - probable Cuviers. We left Santander at 1830 that evening and managed another three large Rorqual Whales before we lost the light.

Striped Dolphin Carol Farmer Wright 02

Striped Dolphin (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Day Five
By dawn of day five we were heading north in two km of water over the shelf and immediately spotted another large Rorqual blow in the deteriorating conditions. Sea state seven at times with an impressive swell. Now even sea bird sightings were few, with the single exception of a concentration of mixed age Gannet busily plunge diving to starboard. In the afternoon conditions improved slightly and Gannet and Shearwaters were seen plus a small group of Common Dolphin that couldn't resist a sideways dip under the hull.

Gannet Carol Farmer-Wright 06

Gannet (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Day Six
In the morning we were passing Hartland Light in the Channel heading for disembarkation in Portbury Dock. Conditions were very dull and a few Great Black-backed Gull was all that was seen.

We left the Aegli shortly after another tasty and sustaining lunch. We would like to thank Neptune Line, Captain Xylouris and the crew of the Neptune Aegli for their assisstance, welcome and hospitality aboard Neptune Aegli during this MARINELife Survey.

Plot of sightings during survey - showing main concentrations of activity

Santander Sept 2019