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Heysham-Dublin survey 23 March

Should we stay or should we go? A very close watch was kept on the shipping forecasts in the days before, and the weather was probably not going to be good for spotting whales and dolphins but going to be good for birds. So, we decided to go!


We were greeted cheerfully by security at Heysham and by the always helpful CLdN (formerly Seatruck) booking office staff. We were driven onto the ferry, welcomed on board by the steward, and arrangements were made to access the bridge in the morning.

Kittiwake (Library photo: Rob Petley-Jones)

On the bridge, we were soon rewarded with our first sightings of Gannet and Kittiwake. The adult Kittiwake looked splendid as they banked in the air, their white underwings contrasting with their solid black wingtips. Some were accompanied by juveniles, with their striking black M pattern across their upper wing. We had frequent sightings of auks in flight, mainly Razorbill and the occasional Guillemot, and we were delighted to see our first Fulmar and Manx Shearwater, the latter probably having spent the winter in the South Atlantic, gliding apparently effortlessly over the waves.

Two hours into the survey we spotted our first Common Dolphin, swimming past the ferry, and shortly afterwards we recorded our second, heading towards us to take a bow ride.  Our third sighting was of a pair of Common Dolphin, their colourful hourglass flank markings flashing in the sunlight - beautiful! Clearly this was our lucky day, as these sightings were quickly followed by excellent close-up views of a pair of Harbour Porpoise and an inquisitive Harbour Seal.

Common Dolphin (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

Closer to the Irish Coast we had good sightings of Great Black-backed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Black Guillemot, Shag, and Cormorant, the latter resplendent in their breeding plumage with bright white thigh patches.

There were no cetacean sightings on our return passage to Heysham but lots more Kittiwake, Gannet and auks recorded. But for a bank of cloud over Morecambe Bay we might have had a very good view of the Aurora Borealis!

An excellent day surveying, and we were very pleased that we decided to go! Our thanks go to Captain Suharevs and the crew of ‘Pace’ as well as the CLdN team at Heysham.

Tony Marshall and Chris Lumb, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)



Outward: sunny intervals, good visibility, wind westerly force 6-7

Return: brighter, good visibility, wind north-westerly force 6-7


Summary of Sightings


Marine mammals

Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2

Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 4

Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina 1



Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2

Shag Gulosus aristotelis 6

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 21

Gannet  Morus bassanus 77

Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 24

Guillemot Uria aalge 58

Razorbill Alca torda 84

Auk sp. 12

Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 191

Common Gull Larus canus 2

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 3

Herring Gull Larus argentatus 27

Gull sp. 4


Birds in Dublin port

Teal Anas crecca                                                                         

Black Guillemot  Cepphus grylle                                              

Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus                   

Common Gull Larus canus                                                        

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus                                 

Herring Gull Larus argentatus    

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