Late on Monday night I met up with Rob Petley-Jones near Lancaster for my first ever survey with MARINElife. We travelled on to Heysham where Rob took me through all the processes of accessing the port, booking in at the Seatruck office and then boarding the Panorama.
As it was late and very dark, we had a short chat and discussion over a brew about the next steps of the journey and how we would be undertaking the survey once it was light. We then called it a night and headed to our cabins to sleep and rest up ready for the morning.
The following morning after a light breakfast Rob and I were escorted to the Bridge. What an amazing privilege! The view of the sea was spectacular, and Philippe the third mate kindly gave me a brief overview of the bridge and navigation systems as I was curious about everything.
Rob and I then established our survey location on the starboard side where Rob introduced me to the aspects and recording of the survey processes, including how to read and gather then information from the ship’s instrumentation.
We had around two hours of sea survey time before we began the approach into Dublin, where the morning survey ended at the red and green lighthouses. During this period, we had spotted several Razorbill, Kittiwake, Guillemot, and a surprise Manx Shearwater - this bird really ought to be off the eastern coast of Brazil this time of year! I was hugely impressed with Rob's ability to spot and identify the birds so quickly, and I know I have a long way to go to develop a fraction of his ability. Fortunately, Rob was very supportive, patient, and helpful in his guidance, so I made a good start. There were two brief encounters with Harbour Porpoise as we neared to Dublin, but there were no other marine mammal sighting before we arrived.
While docked in Dublin we then spent some time ‘practising’ my bird spotting and identification skills and my binocular use around the harbour area on the many gull species there, including Common Gull, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, and Lesser Black-backed Gull. In Ireland all the crows are supposed to be Hooded Crow, so Rob was surprised to see a fully black Carrion Crow among the grey and black Hoodies. There were several Cormorant resting on the dock superstructures or fishing in the grey waters of the Liffey, while a Grey Seal briefly popped his head out to have a look at us - I wonder if that could be the same one spotted by Callum Lowe and Rob on the previous survey? Two Great Northern Diver were encountered just before the start of the survey at the mouth of the Liffey.
Once the return leg to Heysham was underway, we were escorted back to the bridge where we focused hard again to spot and record bird sightings of the several Herring Gull, Cormorant, Razorbill, Kittiwake, and Common Gull, while a solitary Mediterranean Gull appeared as we left Dublin behind.
While we were checking the birds, Captain Viktors Suharevs exclaimed 'dolphins!', and there in front of the bow was a large pod of Bottlenose Dolphin accompanied by a Minke Whale, heading towards us and across the bow of the ship. Unfortunately, these were too busy feeding and did not stop to bow ride with us. This was my personal highlight of the trip, and I was so excited to see them!
Rob spotted a solitary Common Dolphin a little later, but that was it for marine mammals this trip. A single Gannet was the only one we saw all day.
We continued to focus on spotting and recording the birds until the daylight began to fade, and the last records were of seven Fulmar, which pleased Rob as this are his favourite seabird!
As it turned dark, we returned to the lounge and went through the paperwork and data logging process. Rob was very constructive and positive in his critique of my performance, and we have identified areas I need to work on. He also recommended an excellent bird reference book, which was duly ordered and is now received!
Overall, this was an excellent experience for me personally as a novice in this field, and I will be working on the points made and hope to build and develop from this.
We would like to thank Captain Suharevs and his great crew for the welcome they gave us (and for spotting the dolphins before we did!) and also all at Seatruck for their wonderful support, from the dock side to the ship. It is wonderful that they are so helpful to MARINElife personnel and their volunteers!
Louise Williams and Rob Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Outward: wind W, force 2, sea state 2, visibility good
Return: wind NW, force 2-3, sea state 2-3, visibility good
Summary of sightings
Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata 1
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 15
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 1
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 7
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 1
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 5
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 5
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 8
Common Gull Larus canus 12
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 24
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 24
Greater Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 3
Guillemot Uria aalge 11
Razorbill Alca torda 36
Gull sp. 50
Birds recorded in Dublin Port
Great Northern Diver Gavia immer 2
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Common Gull Larus canus
Herring Gull Larus argentatus
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus
Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 1
Hooded Crow Corvus cornix
Carrion Crow Corvus corone 1