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Dover-Calais survey report 17 September

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals

Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1


Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 17

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1

Gannet Morus bassanus 28

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 9

Great Skua Stercorarius skua 2

Guillemot Uria aalge 3

Herring Gull Larus argentatus 43

Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 30

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 5

Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1

Razorbill Alca torda 12

Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 13

Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 4


Outward: sea state 2-3, north westerly force 4-5, visibility good.

Return: sea state 3, north westerly force 4-5, visibility good.

Upon boarding the DFDS ferry Cote D’Opale, I was quickly shown to the bridge, where I was welcomed by the bridge officers. Looking out to sea from Dover harbour I could see that the sea conditions appeared favourable, with generally good visibility, other than glare off the starboard bow on the outward leg of the survey.

Sooty Shearwater (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

Recording started as soon as we passed the Dover harbour wall. Herring Gull predominated at first and the first Gannet was spotted around fifteen minutes into the crossing. Around ten minutes later, further Gannet were seen off to port, circling and alighting on the water, Kittiwake, Guillemot and unusually two Sooty Shearwater were also present, presumably there was food attracting the birds. A Fulmar flew across the bow about five minutes later, the only Fulmar sighting of the entire survey. Further Gannet sightings were made, before a pair of Great Skua were sighted.

Closer to the French coast, Sandwich Tern, no doubt migrating south, were seen. As we approached the port of Calais the ship was greeted by Black-headed Gull and Herring Gull. Cormorant were also seen near the harbour.

Following a quick changeover in the new and impressive Calais harbour and as the ship spun around to leave the harbour the day’s only marine mammal was spotted, a lone Harbour Seal bottling near the beach within the harbour.

Harbour Seal (Library photo: Adrian Shephard)

Heading back out to sea, viewing was now easier, and conditions remained stable, with wind speed and direction, sea state and swell varying little. The general pattern of seabird distribution was repeated, with gulls giving way to Gannet and Kittiwake. Around the midpoint of the crossing Razorbill, Kittiwake and a single Manx Shearwater were observed. Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were also seen soon afterwards. The only other highlight of the survey was a further Sooty Shearwater sighting. Reflecting on the survey although a good number of individual seabird species (14 in total) were spotted, it is impossible not to worry about the devastating impact of bird flu this year on their overall population numbers.

Thanks to Captain Saint-Martin, his bridge officers and other crew, and DFDS for their hospitality.

Stephen Hedley, Research surveyor for MARINElife (registered charity no.: 1110884, reg. company no.: 5057367)

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