MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping ‘Endeavor’ Liverpool-Greenock-Bilbao-Liverpool 10-17 February 2018

Robin Langdon and Jenny Ball; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Marine mammals
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 15
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 127
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 23
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 5
Unidentified Seal sp. 1

Auk sp. 5
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 1
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 1
Common Gull Larus canus 61
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 85
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 26
Eider Somateria mollissima 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 38
Gannet Morus bassanus 215
Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus 1
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 5
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 7
Guillemot Uria aalge 99
Gull sp. 37
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 67
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 170
Larus sp. 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 53
Razorbill Alca torda 2
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 11

Terrestrial bird seen at sea
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 5

Joining Antony Gormley's steel men on Crosby Beach, gazing out to sea, seemed as good a way to prepare for a week's survey as anything.  Soon though, Robin and I met up to board the Endeavor, and were welcomed with a safety briefing and tour round the ship. Cabins allocated, meals eaten, ID books unpacked, and we were ready for an early night.

Antony Gormley Statue Jenny Ball

Anthony Gormley's statue (Jenny Ball)

Day 1: Wind SW F4, sea state 2-4

In the morning we arrived on the bridge, expecting to see the island of Arran on our port side, but it took a little while for the visibility to improve enough to see anything at all!  Eventually, a backward glance revealed a glimpse of a snowy Goatfell through the clouds, and with the weather clearing during the rest of the journey up the Clyde we logged a number of familiar coastal birds. As we were preparing to close the survey on the approach to Greenock, we spotted a lone Harbour Porpoise diving away on the port side of the ship.

Harbour Porpoise Mike Bailey 02

Harbour Porpoise (Mike Bailey)

Robin spent the afternoon on board working on a new MARINElife database, and I went into Greenock, ending up having a lovely walk in the Victorian cemetery, a peaceful and atmospheric wooded park with many interesting memorials, and apparently one of the largest municipal cemeteries in Europe.

Day 2: Wind W F6, sea state 5

The morning dawned bright and clear, and our survey started as we were more or less level with Dublin and Holyhead. Sightings were fairly sparse throughout the day with a tricky combination of an agitated sea state and glare making surveying difficult.

However, we managed to see a group of five, and then two separate Common Dolphin, though we felt that the solitary individuals may well have been part of groups, difficult to see in the conditions. A long and very drawn-out stream of adult Gannet tracked alongside us for a while, small groups of Fulmar and Kittiwake swept in and out of the waves, and a few auks hurried by. We had two possible shearwater sightings to mull over, neither well enough seen to identify confidently, and we ended the day's effort shortly after sunset.

Gannet Carol Farmer-Wright 07

Gannet (Carol Farmer-Wright)

Day 3: Wind NW F2, sea state 2-3

After an interesting night's "rest" where we had to make sure all was securely battened down, we arrived on the bridge at about 07:30, slightly bleary-eyed.  We were looking forward to a good day's spotting, travelling across the Bay of Biscay, but it seemed that the birds and cetaceans had not read the plan.  Out came the excuses:  the sea conditions, the glare, the spray on the windows… but as the conditions improved and the crew cleaned the windows not just once but twice, we needed a new strategy.

I went off to the port side to make a cup of tea.  Just as I did so a couple of Common Dolphin came into the starboard bow.  Soon it was lunch time so I went down and within a minute Robin recorded some more Common Dolphin on the starboard side, followed a few minutes later by another group.  After returning from lunch I popped over to have a chat with one of the crew, port side of the bridge, and sure enough Robin was calling a group of Common Dolphin on the starboard side.

There was a pattern developing!  Why is it that Common Dolphin like the starboard side?

Our largest group of the day, about 40 Common Dolphin, slowly came into the ship over a five minute period.  We also saw smaller groups of Bottlenose and Striped Dolphin, but no whales this time… we decided all in all it was not a bad day with a final total of 86 dolphins.

BND Peter Howlett 04

Bottlenose Dolphin (Peter Howlett)

The birds also came slowly, with only 4 different species throughout the whole day. The most common being Gannet and Kittiwake but also a few Great Skua and a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Robin's assessment of the day: Common Dolphin like the starboard side but Jenny likes the Port.

Day 4

With a full rest day in prospect, and Robin still working on his software development, I made my way into Bilbao to see the famous Guggenheim museum. It's a spectacular building, the titanium sheeted curves, glass and limestone shapes almost changing as you look at them... the inside is just as impressive and that's before you start looking at the galleries and collections!

Guggenheim Jenny Ball

Guggenheim (Jenny Ball)

Day 5: Wind SW F5-6, sea state 4-5

Maybe the Victorians had it right after all, in thinking that birds hibernated in the mud at the bottom of ponds (or the sea?), reappearing in the spring.  We saw it with our own eyes:  Lesser Black-backed Gull were appearing from nowhere!  Every time we looked, there would be more birds in the group alongside the ship but we had seen no new ones fly in…very mysterious.

We enjoyed watching the gulls fly with the wind coming over the port side at about 90° to the ship.  The birds were facing into the wind but moving in the same direction as the ship, effectively flying sideways.  They were all grouped on the port side, we assume because the wind on the starboard side was turbulent due it having passed over the ship.

LBB Gull Peter Howlett 04

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Peter Howlett)

Birds seen were of the same species as had been recorded on the way down a couple of days ago:   Gannet, Kittiwake and Great Skua, along with our mysterious Lesser Back-backed Gull.  The conditions were not ideal with a mist being down all day meaning we could see less than 2 km.  The sea state was also 5 with a 2m swell for most of the time.

Day 6: Wind W F4-5, sea state 4-5

Another day, another dolphin... it's always a pleasure to see them rushing in towards the bow, though from our vantage point on the bridge it's not possible to see what they do when they get there!  Early on we saw four groups of Common Dolphin over a half hour period, and then later on, and rather unusually, a close group of five Harbour Porpoise swimming parallel to the ship. The birds mostly kept their distance today, though a good number of Fulmar were patrolling the waves in search of food. Sightings new to both of us were an immature Glaucous Gull, weaving to and fro with a Lesser Black Backed Gull, and a Black-throated Diver which was startled into flight by the ship.

Glaucous Gull Jenny Ball

Glaucous Gull (Robin Langdon)

Day 7: Wind SW F3, sea state 2

Our final half day's survey was from our overnight anchorage off the north coast of Anglesey, skirting the huge Rhyl Flats and Burbo Bank windfarms up to the Port of Liverpool.  We saw a good number of Common Gull, Common Scoter, some velvety Great Black-backed Gull, and many Cormorant sitting on the BAR lightship, but none of the frequently seen porpoises or seals.

We very much appreciated the hospitality offered by Captain Gornev and the crew of the Endeavor, and send grateful thanks to JR Shipping for allowing us the opportunity to survey on their ships.

Robin Langdon and Jenny Ball; Research Surveyors for MARINElife