UK/Ireland - Bilbao

Sightings Archives: July 2017

MARINELife Survey Report: JR Shipping ‘Endeavor’ Liverpool-Greenock-Bilbao-Liverpool 19-27 July 2017

Posted 04 August 2017

Maggie Gamble and Suzie Miller; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Marine Mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 5
Short-beaked Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 147
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 26
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 56
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 19
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 4
Sperm Whale Physeter macrocephalus 1
Northern Bottlenose Whale Hyperoodon ampullatus 2
Unidentified Dolphin 3
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 5
Common Seal Phoca vitulina 2

Other Marine Life
Tuna Sp. 3

Seabirds
Common Eider Somateria mollissima 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 168
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 917
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 20
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis 113
European Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 2
Wilson's Storm Petrel Oceanicus oceanicus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 1013
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 8
European Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 39
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Common Gull Larus canus 2
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 96
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 49
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 44
Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 4
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 3
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 294
Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea 7
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 12
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 6
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 11
Guillemot Uria aalge 1197
Razorbill Alca torda 86
Puffin Fratercula arctica 7
Unidentified Large Gull sp. 1420
Unidentified Shearwater Sp.  39
Unidentified Tern Sp. 19
Unidentified Auk Sp. 1339
Unidentified Duck Sp. 2

Terrestrial birds during survey effort
House Martin  Delichon urbicum 1
Swift Apus apus 3
Turnstone Arenaria interpres 1
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus 1
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 3
Feral Pigeon 2

WEDNESDAY 19th

Wednesday was a gloriously sunny day as we made our way to Liverpool docks.  We parked up and were escorted to the MV Endeavor.  The Second Officer - Ignatius Perez warmly welcomed us on board, introduced us to the Captain - Vitaly Shutov, and showed us to our cabins which were very spacious and comfortable!  He informed us that dinner would be soon and so we headed back to the officers mess and had a sumptuous salad.  The ship was scheduled to leave Liverpool before breakfast the next day, so we arranged to be on the bridge by 8am the next morning.

Liverpool Docks_Maggie Gamble

Liverpool Docks (Maggie Gamble)

THURSDAY 20th

We were both aware of when we moved from the dockside and so were awake in plenty of time to have a leisurely breakfast and then up to the bridge.  We made it out to clear waters by 8:30am having dropped off the pilot.  Weather conditions were good with low to little swell, a few white caps with clear visibility.  Our route to Greenock took us south of the Isle of Man, then north travelling along its west coast and the east coast of Ireland.  In the early hours of the evening as we were approaching Scottish waters the sharp eye of Maggie spotted a large amount of white water on the horizon on the port side.  A cetacean was breaching yet deemed it appropriate not to show us what they were so we concluded that as the white water was bigger than that created by a dolphin species it would have been a whale, the most likely being a Minke.  A great start for cetacean sightings!!  We made our way to bed after the sun set with a smile on our faces! Manx Shearwater were the clear winners of the day for numbers seen followed by Gannet, Guillemot, Kittiwake and Larus gull species.

Manx Shearwater Rick Morris 06

Manx Shearwater (Rick Morris)

FRIDAY 21st

The following day we rose early to try and make the most of the daylight hours.  Sadly, we were greeted with a grey, wet day with poor visibility.  We reassessed after breakfast giving it a while to brighten.  When we returned to the bridge the pilot was on board guiding us into Greenock docks.  Due to unforeseen circumstances our arrival had been delayed which provided us with an opportunity to explore Greenock.  The local theatre's cafe was recommended to us - The Beacon Cafe - which we would happily recommend to any going to Greenock!  Great carrot cake, service and atmosphere!  We had dinner off the boat too at Torino's restaurant - another great recommendation with fab pizza and homemade burgers! Once again the Manx Shearwater were the winners of the day.  Gannet, Herring Gull and Auk species were runners up.  Sadly, no cetaceans were spotted during the day.

SATURDAY 22nd

The morning started off with data entry whilst the loading of the ship was finished.  This was done quickly and efficiently as we left ahead of schedule!  Once again, we were piloted out of Greenock to clear waters.  Our attentions were kept heightened as numerous sea birds flew or floated past.  A juvenile Eider duck paddled past oblivious of the huge freight ship going by!  The weather was kind to us for the day with great visibility, calm waters and few white caps.  As we approached Ailsa Craig, large numbers of Gannets were seen on and in the water as well as flying past in all directions, ones and twos but then great long lines of them as they also got closer to the Crag.  Hundreds if not thousands were on the Crag nesting!!  The side of the cliff face was visibly white even from a distance - the white being both bird and poop!  A number of shags were mixed into those breeding on the Crag as well as in flight to and from.  Auk species were in abundance mainly during the afternoon/evening when the waters were exceptionally calm!  Guillemot parings of father and juvenile fledgling making their way in the world were often seen throughout the day, the occasional Puffin was also thrown into the mix.

Ailsa Craig_Maggie Gamble

Ailsa Craig (Maggie Gamble)

Due to the calm waters, it was the day of the Harbour Porpoise!!  They seemed to pop up everywhere!  A good number of Common Dolphin were also spotted along with Grey Seal bobbing at the surface.  The last sighting of the day was of a juvenile Minke Whale feeding amongst Manx Shearwater!  What a way to end the day!

Minke Adrian Shephard 04

Minke Whale (Adrian Shephard)

SUNDAY 23rd

We had another early start to the day, yet we found a good sea state and visibility but with a fair amount of swell.  When we arrived at the bridge we were still in the Irish Sea just north of Holyhead.  We had a couple of early morning sightings of both Common Dolphin and Bottlenose Dolphin heading towards the boat.

BND Peter Howlett 05

Bottlenose Dolphin (Peter Howlett)

As the swell and sea state reduced we were passing between Lands End and the Scilly Isles, spotting the Seven Stones light boat on the starboard side.  A small pod of Common Dolphin was spotted feeding amongst Manx Shearwater and Larus gull species.  A fair amount of sea traffic was encountered as we passed the English Channel heading south.  Freight vessels twice the size of us as well as fishing vessels and sailing yachts were manoeuvred passed safely, we were on our way to 'The Biscay'.  By 8:30pm we were off Iles de Glenan, north west of France.

In comparison to the day before it was a fairly quiet day for birds, but we had the odd surprise of a Storm Petrel flitting past and a couple of Balearic Shearwater soaring above the waves.  In addition to birds and cetaceans we spotted tuna leaping from the water - initially thinking dolphin, yet their tails gave them away.  Another great sighting!  Cetaceans had kept us on our feet as they graced us with their presence for a few precious moments throughout the day.  Guaranteed to put a smile on my face when I spotted them!!

MONDAY 24th

Once again, we headed to the bridge early to maximise the daylight hours.  Heading south however enabled us to have an extra half hour in bed as it was still dark at 6am!  We were travelling over the abyssal plains when we arrived at the bridge.  The depth gauge was unable to provide data as after 200 meters it is unable to determine the depth, however it was estimated that we were travelling over depths of up to 4000m (4km)!

We were definitely now in deep waters and the possibility of seeing different cetaceans was very high.  However, no-one had told the weather this and thus it was not cooperating.  Visibility, precipitation and sea state were variable with swell varying between 1-3meters.  Not ideal conditions for cetacean spotting, but also not the worst weather that the Biscay could have thrown at us.  Few birds were seen, with a higher number of Balearic Shearwaters being seen.

Balearic Shear Tom Brereton 06

Balearic Shearwater (Tom Brereton)

Cetaceans were out there and thankfully we were blessed in spotting a few.  Just as we approached a small downpour of rain - alternatively called heavy mist - we spotted a blow.  Tracking this through the mist was challenging but we did spot it again a few moments later as a Fin whale evaded the ships path.

Fin Whale Carol Farmer-Wright 02

Fin Whale (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Common Dolphin and Striped Dolphin were spotted passing fairly close to the vessel, not interacting with it.  In a moment of clear visibility and calmer waters, two Northern Bottlenose Whale were spotted heading away from the ship on the starboard side, one of which was a juvenile!  What a great sighting!  One I have not experienced before!!  When we approached the port, we kept our eyes peeled for the Yellow-legged Gull - it proved to be illusive on our way in.

Santurzi_Maggie Gamble

Santurzi (Maggie Gamble)

We arrived at the port of Bilbao - Santuritz, where the captain very skilfully manoeuvred the vessel alongside the dock.  As the vessel would be here overnight we got off - laden with data sheets - and headed into town and located a cafe.  After refreshments, we worked through the data sheets, totalling all that had been seen this far.  As late afternoon, early evening approached we headed back to the ship to get an early night.

TUESDAY 25th

The morning was put to good use as the vessel was still being loaded with containers - nothing like a morning of data entry!  The elusive Yellow-legged Gull managed to make appearance through the port hole of the cabin - seen but not during data recording.... We left around 10:30am heading north.  About an hour later we were again over deep waters, not long after cetaceans were sighted with Common Dolphin seen approaching the vessel.  The weather conditions were much improved on the day before and so we were able to spot many more whale blows and cetacean activity.

Fin Whale were seen feeding as well as slow swimming past the vessel, going about their lives giving us a sneak insight into them - what a privilege!  A small pod of Striped Dolphin approached the ship and were bow riding for a short period of time, then went past, tumbling in the wash - all good fun.  A short while later the Captain spotted some striped Dolphin heading towards the boat again - a great spot!!  Now he knows which species of dolphins they were not just the generic dolphin....

Calm Seas_Suzie Miller

Calm Seas (Suzie Miller)

Again few birds were seen but Cory's Shearwater were gliding over the waters, Gannet flying and diving and a Great Skua passed us by!

Corys Shearwater Martin Gillingham 01

Cory's Shearwater (Martin Gillingham)

WEDNESDAY 26th

The early morning found us to be level with the northern tip of France, yet we were greeted with grey grey skies, poor light and visibility.  Maggie's keen eye spotted 3 Common Dolphin heading towards the boat a few minutes before 7am!  By 9am we were in the Celtic Sea, the weather had not improved, yet we had seen twice as many birds by then than we had for the whole of the previous day - not so many whales though....  We steadily headed north reaching the Scilly Isles by lunchtime, sadly not to be seen due to the 'heavy mist'; however, the afternoon was not wasted.  We may not have been blessed with great spotting conditions, but it did enable us to input a considerable amount of bird data.  We returned to the bridge to find the Penwith Heritage Coast to the east, but visibility soon deteriorated again so down we went to input more data.  After an hour or so we returned to the bridge, undecided as to whether or not to stay as conditions had not improved, potentially the swell was increasing.  We glanced out to check the sea state - a minimum of 7 - a Common Dolphin was making a speedy approach towards the bow of the boat! So, the decision was made for us, we were to stay!  Not long after 4 more Common Dolphin were gleefully approaching the bow, one of which looked as if it was literally throwing its self at the boats!  It was obviously great weather for surfing!

Common Dolphin Adrian Shephard 10

Common Dolphin (Adrian Shephard)

Birds flew past very speedily - by intention or due to the strength of the winds was unclear, but Gannet and Manx Shearwater were making the most of them! The day ended as we passed St Georges Channel at around 9:30pm, still with bumpy seas and reducing visibility.

THURSDAY 27th

The early morning was much calmer and brighter than when we had left it the previous day.  The pilot boarded the ship at 8:30am as we made our approach to Liverpool port.  He expertly guided us through the channel as it was a low spring tide, exposing numerous sand banks and the odd ship wreck!!  The man-made wall that had been created back in the day to hold back the moving sand was exposed - well nearly exposed as there were hundreds of gulls using them as a resting post.  A couple of Great and Lesser Black-backed Gull escorted us into the port and a few more hitched a ride on the containers.  As we passed a large sand bank a couple of Common and Grey Seal were hauled out, watching the world pass by.

We had to wait for the tide to raise the ship a few meters for us to enter the lock gates and then manoeuvre past some very large ships as they made their way out of the lock.  We came alongside the quay and disembarked just after lunch having seen a small number of Little Gull on the way into the port, very smart and elegant creatures!

Thanks go to all involved in making this survey possible land and water based!  Oscars soups were noted to be of considerable flavour and highly enjoyable!  Thank you all SO MUCH for enabling this experience to happen!

Sunset_Suzie Miller

Sunset (Suzie Miller)

Maggie Gamble and Suzie Miller; Research Surveyors for MARINElife