UK/Ireland - Bilbao

Sightings Archives: February 2017

MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping Liverpool-Bilbao 'MV Endeavor' 13th-20th February 2017

Posted 26 February 2017

Philip Dutt, Research Surveyor for MARINElife
Outward:E7-4  Return: W3 with some dense fog

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin  Delphinus delphis 42
Sperm Whale Physeter macrocephalus 1
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 2

Fulmar  Fulmarus glacialis 4
Gannet  Morus bassanus 51
Great Skua  Stercorarius skua 2
Herring Gull  Larus argentatus 3
Yellow Legged Gull  Larus michahellis 2
Great Black-backed Gull  Larus marinus 47
Little Gull  Hydrocoloeus minutus 1
Kittiwake  Rissa tridactyla 35
Puffin  Fratercula arctica 3

I arrived at Seaforth Dock gates late Sunday evening and was taken to the M/S Endeavor by the shuttlebus.  The crew took me straight to my cabin and I tried to get some sleep before the ship sailed at 23:30.

I met Captain Vitaly Shuthov at breakfast the next morning (13th).  The sea was very rough but I headed up to the bridge at 7:50 to assess the surveying conditions.  We were level with Bardsey Island and heading SSW through St George's Channel.  The ship was laden with a high stack of empty containers and proceeding against a 3.5 knot northerly current with a strong easterly crosswind, causing the ship to yaw, roll and pitch.

GBB Gull Peter Howlett 02

Great Black-backed Gull (Peter Howlett)

The seastate was 7 and conditions were marginal for surveying although the swell at 3 metres was better than the 7 metre swell of the previous week. Only 3 species of bird were recorded. By 14:00 the conditions were getting worse and when the Irish coastguard gave an imminent gale warning I decided to abandon it for the day. On Tuesday at 08:00 the conditions were markedly improved and it could have been a summer's day, warm with seastate 2 and good visibility.  We were level with Concarneau on the southern Brittany peninsula.  We had an escort of Great black-backed Gull riding the pressure wave at the bow created by the container stack.  They disappeared later in the morning as we neared some fishing boats and we then picked up some Kittiwake followers at the stern.

Common Dolphin Rick Morris 01

Common Dolphin (Rick Morris)

As we approached the Gulf of St Gascoigne and the canyons there were 4 sightings of Common Dolphin and after mid-morning it went very quiet.

Due to not being able to unload at Bilbao we were advised that we would only be able to anchor outside the port on arrival.  As we weren't going to be unloaded  on arrival the ship reduced speed to 11 knots which was disappointing as I had hoped to cover at least the northern half of the Bay on the outward journey.

We anchored early Wednesday and remained for 2 days west of the outer harbour wall with a good view of the town of Laredo further down the coast. Despite scanning the skyline for several hours each day there was no sign of raptors so I had to be content with Yellow Legged Gull and sunbathing.Unloading finally started after breakfast on the Friday and the hope was that we might be away by 6am the following morning.


I headed out of the port area for a walk up Mt. Serantes which overlooks the container port.   On another glorious day there were lizards basking on rubble with hoverflies and butterflies on the wing including Red Admiral and the more orange southern form of Speckled Wood. Just above a new housing development with a prepared Nordic walking track there were plenty of Meadow Pipit and wagtails in the open grassland.  A huge wasp's nest hung on one of the trees overlooking the path so I'm not sure I'd want to be walking that route later in the summer. Higher up there were small areas fenced off to revert to the original habitat type and supporting amphibians and wetland vegetation.

Speckled WoodPerez FrogSpeckled Wood & Perez Frong (Phil Dutt)

The occasional Perez Frog could be seen in one of the ponds.By early Saturday morning prior to departure two of Endeavor's sister ships, Enforcer and Ensemble, had moored across the harbour.  It was another warm sunny day (18˚C) with sea state 3, little swell and excellent visibility.  The ship was loaded with full containers so the stack was much lower with more sea visible in front of the bow. I had more sightings of Common Dolphin, singles or small groups of no more than 3 shortly after.

At about 15:30 there was a huge flash of cascading water about 3 km dead ahead and I just got time to make out a large rectangular blunt form leaping out of the water pointing westward.  After much deliberation, I concluded that this must have been a Sperm Whale breaching.   I scanned the area for another 15 minutes in the hope of a confirmatory sighting but unfortunately it never showed again and knowing they dive for 45 to 60 minutes, this was not unexpected.

Sperm Whale_Tim Melling

Sperm Whale (Tim Melling)

There were a few more dolphin sightings, mostly Common Dolphin but some were too far away to be sure. As the sea was so calm I hung on hoping for something near to the ship and was rewarded 20 minutes later by the silhouettes of 2 Minke Whale ahead on the port side doing a slow distinctive roll.  On the bird front there had been little of note apart from a solitary Little Gull it had been mainly Gannet and Kittiwake.

On the Sunday morning the survey started off Brittany, south-west of the Île d'Ouessant.  Conditions were not quite so good and we ran into fog after crossing the Channel so I never saw Wolf Rock or the Scillies.  Up to that point there were 8 Common Dolphin sightings and 2 Great Skua.

On the Monday morning the survey started north of Anglesey in reasonable conditions at seastate 3 but not quite calm enough for Harbour Porpoise.  A few single Puffin passed in front of the ship on foraging trips.  I concluded the survey when the Liverpool pilot came aboard at 11:30. After going through the lock gates and mooring up I left the ship at 14:30.

Puffin Peter Howlett 03

Puffin (Peter Howlett)

I hadn't been sure what to expect on a Biscay trip in the winter - certainly not a breaching Sperm Whale - but after the severe weather of the previous and the subsequent weeks I probably got off pretty lightly!

My thanks to Captain Vitaly Shutov, the crew and to the cook, Oleg Krasovskyi for keeping me fed and watered with an amazing array of dishes throughout the trip.

Philip Dutt, Research Surveyor for MARINElife