UK/Ireland - Bilbao

Sightings Archives: June 2018

MARINElife Survey Report: JR Shipping ‘Endeavor’ Liverpool-Bilbao 21-27 June 2018

Posted 04 July 2018

Robin Langdon and Jack Lucas; Research Surveyors for MARINElife

Marine Mammals
Common Dolphin (Short-beaked) Delphinus delphis 1247
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris 1
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 11
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 126
Long-finned Pilot Whale Globicephala melas 10
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 5
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba 82
Unidentified Dolphin sp. 5
Unidentified Seal sp. 6
Unidentified Whale sp. 1

Other Marine Wildlife
Tuna sp. Thunnus sp. 2

Seabirds
Auk sp. Alcidae 358
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/Sterna paradisaea 7
Common Gull Larus canus 1
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 127
Cormorant/shag sp. Phalacrocoracidae 1
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 57
Gannet Morus bassanus 1793
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 26
Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis 2
Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2
Guillemot Uria aalge 752
Gull sp. Laridae 421
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 58
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 97
Larus sp. Larus sp. 1
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 79
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2853
Puffin Fratercula arctica 17
Razorbill Alca torda 5
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 2
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 23
Shearwater sp. Shearwater 6
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 1
Tern sp. Sternidae 2
Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis 21

Terrestrial Birds
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 10
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 2
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus 1
Passerine sp. Passeriformes 2
Swift Apus apus 5
Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon Columba livia 6

Liverpool to Greenock Day 1 and 2

The trip from Liverpool to Greenock was fairly uneventful with some choppy conditions. There was only myself surveying as Jack, the other surveyor was boarding the ship at Greenock.

The setting sun was directly in front of the ship that made spotting challenging. After a couple of hours the light had faded so I gave up.  Nothing of note was spotted, sorry to any Gannet and Lesser Black-backed Gull listening.

The sea was a lot calmer at 4:30 the following morning, who's idea was it to volunteer for a survey on the longest day? We were about 3 hours out of Greenock.  I spent the first hour counting Gannet, many circled the ship.  Looking behind the ships there were lines of Gannet waiting their turn to pass the ship and be counted.

Gannet I2 Jack Lucas

Gannet (Jack Lucas)

The spotting conditions got even better as we approached Greenock.  I was just thinking to myself that I was not likely to see any cetaceans within the shipping channel.  But you guessed it, 30 seconds later the first Porpoise pops up within the channel.  Don't you hate it when the wildlife makes you look a fool!

So, what did we learn today?

  • Gannets are well-behaved
  • Porpoise try to make a fool of you

Greenock to Bilbao Day 1

Jack joined the ship on the previous evening, allowing time to catch up and plan what we might see on the trip:

Day 1 - Few Porpoise at the start, may be a Minke and a stack of Common Dolphin.  May be 25 different sightings by the end of the day.

Day 2 - Lots more Common Dolphin and many whales.

Then the same in reverse on the way back.  Plan set, time to put into action.

The weather was good and got better and better.  From 10:30am until just after 21:30 when we finished there was a sea state of 0 and no swell.  The spotting conditions were ideal. So, we were expecting we should get a good number of sightings.

There were many Gannet as we pass Ailsa Craig. The island was looking like a smoking volcano.  As expected there were also reasonable number of Manx Shearwater.  We even had various Pigeon land on the ship and hitch a ride for a while before leaving us.  Presumably Racing Pigeon as one seemed to have a mobile phone number on its ring.

As the conditions were so good it was quite hard work as you wanted to keep looking and you were always picking up your binoculars to look at things.  By the end of the day my shoulder was aching with all the exercise.

Oh yes, I need to mention the cetaceans.  Well it did start according to plan with a few Harbour Porpoise and adding to the sighting count some seals too, but they kept coming.  By the end of the day the sighting count was as follows, this is the number of separate sightings not individual animals

  • Seals - 10
  • Common Dolphin - 7
  • Minke - 4
  • Porpoise - 60

That is over 80 separate sightings in a day.  On my best Bilbao survey so far, we had recorded 104 sightings in the whole survey.  Most were under 70 for the whole survey.  I even managed to see a group of Common Dolphin bow riding on a passing ship.

As you can understand we did not want to leave the bridge that day, particularly Jack as the first Minke Whale appeared while he was at lunch.  We wanted to stay to the bitter end as there was no cloud in front of the setting sun so with the right conditions you can get a green flash as it sets.

Sunset Jack Lucas 01

Sunset (Jack Lucas)

Greenock to Bilbao Day 2

We were keen to get back to the bridge after yesterday's exploits.  We were now going to cross into Biscay where the sightings should increase.  We were getting concerned I had not brought enough data sheets as we had already used about half of them.

The sea state had picked up a bit starting off at about 2.  This steadily increased and so by 7:30 it had reached a 4.  The swell also increased to a 1.  So, we were not going to get the ideal conditions of the previous day.

The birds seemed to be few and far between.  We were hoping for early Great and Cory's Shearwater, but none were seen all day.  We did get excited when the captain shouted that there was a Pelican on the starboard side.  We spun round to look to find he was point to a ship that was passing out bow.  We did briefly come across the Pelican again the following day as we reached Bilbao.

There was a Pigeon, either from the previous day or a new one was there to greet us when we first got to the bridge.  A juvenile Black-backed Gull landed on the containers around 16:30 and was still there 14 hours later as we went into the port at Bilbao.

The cetaceans started well with the first group of Common Dolphin being spotted just after 6 am.  But then nothing for hours.  According to Jack this was because it was 'Bathymetrically disinteresting'. We were feeling blue with the lack of sightings, Jack even more so when he went down to have his lunch, a pod of 10 Pilot Whale swam slowly passed the ship.  He was starting not to like lunch.

Pilot Whale Robin Langdon

Pilot Whale (Robin Langdon)

We saw a few more Common Dolphin through the afternoon.  In the evening, the sightings did pick up and included a crazy 10 minutes when we had around 250 Common Dolphin come into to try and bow ride the ship.

By the end of the day we had a total of 15 separate sightings so we left the bridge with our dreams of Olympic spotting fading fast.

Bilbao Port

We managed a very short survey in the morning before the pilot boarded and we went into port.  We had hoped to get our 100th sighting but alas that was not to be.  We did however see our first Great Shearwater.

The day in port was going to be chock-a-block with action.  Jack headed up the hill to get a look at the local flora and fauna while I stayed on board to catch up with some MARINElife work I needed to get done.

Jack had a successful trip up the hill.  Amongst the birds he saw were Stonechat, Serin, Black Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher, Melodious Warbler, Garden Warbler and White Wagtail.  He also saw Little Stint while down on the beach after coming down from the hill.  It also had the added advantage that during lunch he did not miss any sightings of whales.

Bilbao to Liverpool day 1

Our original plans now in tatters we left Bilbao about 23:00.  When we arrived on the bridge the following morning round about 5 am we had already passed a lot of the canyon area where a lot of the whale sightings are seen.

This day was not for the birders unless they wanted pictures of a Gannet, which stayed with the ship for a number of hours, or a Collared Dove, which landed on the ship around 11 am and finally left sometime the following morning now many miles from its start point.  No doubt somewhat confused.

During the whole day we saw less than 50 birds.

There were sightings of Common and Stripped Dolphin as we came across Biscay.  Jack carried on with his lunch exploits.  He had announced when he joined the ship in Greenock that it would be nice to see a Cuvier's Beaked Whale.  One did turn up but Jack as normal was down at lunch.  Jack exclaiming after returning and being informed of his mishap, "Son of a gun this has got to stop".

Striped Dolphin Jack Lucas 01

Striped Dolphin (Jack Lucas)

As I said on a previous day that the most sightings I had seen on this survey was 104.  We passed this number in the morning and by the end of the day we had over 120 sightings for the trip.  One more day to go, would we make 150?

Bilbao to Liverpool day 2

By now Jack was resigned to not seeing his key species.  He was even deciding which cetacean I was going to see while he was at lunch.  Top of the bill where Risso's Dolphin as neither Jack nor I had seen these before.

When we first got to the bridge we were just passing Lands End.  We already had a large group of gulls around us and as mentioned the Collared Dove was still with us.  Later that day we had a couple of probable sightings of Balearic Shearwater.

Fulmar Jack Lucas 01

Fulmar (Jack Lucas)

There were also large numbers of Gannet forming up into V's and flying off towards the north.  Big groups of Manx Shearwater were also seen resting on the water.

By lunch time Jack had developed Bathmophobia and Cibophodia.  For those who are uneducated this is a fear or stairs and a fear of food.  He did not want to go down the stairs for lunch as he would miss the Risso's Dolphin.  He was eventually persuaded to go and was most surprised on his return that he had not missed anything.  We did however conclude that the Risso's must have been there it is just I failed to spot them.

There were only a few encounters of Common Dolphin but there was a large group of about 250 that came into the ship over about 10 minutes.  There were a few Harbour Porpoise and Grey Seal spotted but we fell just short of the 150 sightings with a final tally of 147.

Common Dolphin Jack Lucas

Common Dolphin (Jack Lucas)

Back on home ground

All in all, this was a good survey.  Thanks to Captains Shutov and Gornev and the crew for making us most welcome.

Robin Langdon and Jack Lucas; Research Surveyors for MARINElife