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Dover-Calais survey 23 January

Summary of sightings

Marine Mammals

Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 2


Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 19

Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 1

Common Gull Larus canus 31

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1

Gannet Morus bassanus 103

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 40

Guillemot Uria aalge 33

Herring Gull Larus argentatus 76

Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 19

Razorbill Alca torda 1

Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1

Gull sp. 112

Auk sp. 1


Outbound: wind ENE veering E force 4, sea state 4-3, visibility moderate with mist, minimal high cloud with initial glare.

Return: wind E backing NE force 5-4, sea state 3, visibility good with moderate clouds.

The day was cold and bright as I headed down the M20 to Dover for my second survey of January 2023. Temperatures were below zero and there was still evidence of freezing fog in the Channel as the French coast was hidden from view. Once on the ship, I headed to the information desk, introduced myself, completed formalities and arranged with them to head up to the bridge to survey.

As I looked out towards France, I saw many Cormorant and gulls resting on the outer breakwater, the former sunning themselves, the others awaiting a vessel to come into harbour so that they could scavenge for titbits of food in its wake.

Cormorant (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

The survey began once we had cleared the outer breakwater. Immediately I was recording Great Black-backed gull, Gannet, Herring Gull and Black-Headed Gull. A few Guillemot were also recorded flying with rapid wingbeats over the sea. The glare from the sun was showing many of these birds in silhouette, making aging difficult. The captain advised me that both dolphin and seal had been seen in good numbers the previous week - I told him that I hadn’t recorded any mammals as yet! Fortunately, I was eventually able to spot a single Harbour Seal about 30 minutes out from Calais. The animal surfaced briefly about 100 metres ahead of the vessel and then dived beneath the surface to evade our approach.

Approaching Calais harbour, bird numbers increased as Common Gull, Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull and Great Black-backed Gull all approached the vessel to scavenge for food in the wake. Inside the outer breakwater, the survey having been suspended, I was able to watch the small group of Harbour Seal that use the beach in the new part of the harbour. Six animals had hauled out as the tide started to drop. By the time we left the berth this number had increased to ten animals. It is amazing to think how close they are to humans in the middle of a busy harbour.

Common Gull (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

Sightings on the return voyage were fewer than the outbound transect with a group of gulls resting on the water suggesting some past feeding activity had taken place close to the harbour. A single Harbour Seal was seen within half an hour of leaving Calais. Bird sightings then became steady until we reached Dover and I concluded the survey and made my way downstairs to depart the ship.

I would like to thank the Captain, Officers and crew of the Cote des Flandres for their help in making our survey possible and enjoyable. Also my thanks go to the shore staff for their kindness in helping make these MARINElife surveys possible.

Carol Farmer-Wright, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

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