Dover-Dunkirk survey 28 January
Summary of sightings:
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 30
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 2
Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica 1
Common Gull Larus canus 6
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 13
Gannet Morus bassanus 199
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 18
Guillemot Uria aalge 26
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 40
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 49
Razorbill Alca torda 6
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata 1
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 2
Larus sp. 5
Auk sp. 14
Outbound: wind N veering SSE force 4-3, sea state 2-3, visibility good with increasing cloud
Return: wind NW veering N force 2-5, sea state 2, cloudy with good visibility
Almost the end of January found me once again heading down to Dover to join Pat to complete the first survey of the year between Dover and Dunkirk. We headed to the port, joined the ship and proceeded to the information desk. Once there we completed formalities and were escorted to the bridge and welcomed by Captain Russell Smith before we began our survey.
Conditions were ideal as the sea state was slight with no swell. If there were any marine mammals in the Dover Strait within a mile or two from the ship, we had a good chance of seeing them. Our survey started at 12:05 pm once we had cleared the outer breakwater of Dover harbour. Within the first 10 minutes of surveying, we had recorded our first of two sightings of Harbour Seal, the first was shadowed by a Kittiwake, Common Gull and a Great Black-backed Gull hoping to benefit from its presence. The second, seen 5 minutes later, surfaced, looked at our vessel and then dived down out of sight.
Bird sightings were initially slow, a few Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull Kittiwake, and Common Gull. Sightings picked up over the next half hour and the reason for their initial absence became clear. I looked out toward the French coast and could see turbulent water just under a kilometre ahead of us. The water was being disturbed by many fins and diving Gannet, behaviour known as a feeding frenzy.
As we approached the area, we were finally able to make a clear identification, a pod of Common Dolphin, at least 30 of them, were feeding in the Dover Strait. (I later checked MARINElifes’ records and discovered that this was the first confirmed sighting of this species in the area.) The pod, that would probably have come over to the ship to bow-ride if it had not been feeding, continued pursuing its prey swimming past our vessel to the north. Looking closer at the pod there were at least 5 sub-adults in amongst them.
A fantastic sight to behold. Around 50 Gannet were following the pod, the probable reason why bird sightings were initially slow as the commotion that the dolphins made would draw many birds over to their area. Fortunately for us, two of the ship’s officers, India and Dom, recorded the encounter on their iPhones. (Video can be seen on our MARINElife Facebook page and website)
After the exciting encounter we continued to record Gannet, Guillemot, Herring Gull and Kittiwake until we entered Dunkirk harbour entrance.
The turn-around in Dunkirk takes around an hour, so it was three p.m. before we started heading back to Dover. No further marine mammals were seen but a steady count of Gannet, Cormorant, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and Kittiwake was made until the sun set and we returned to the passenger decks to await disembarkation at Dover.
We both wish to thank Captain Russell Smith, and the officers and crew of the Dunkerque Seaways for looking after us so well whilst we were surveying on a momentous day for new records in MARINElife history.
Carol Farmer-Wright and Pat Hatch, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)