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Heysham-Dublin survey report 11 October

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals

Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 6


Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 17

Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 3

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 13

Cormorant/Shag sp. 1

Gannet Morus bassanus 50

Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 8

Guillemot Uria aalge 206

Razorbill Alca torda 1

Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 22

Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 7

Common Gull Larus canus 13

Herring Gull Larus argentatus 1

Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 7

Gull species (unidentified) 19

Tern species (unidentified) 2


Wind: N force 1-3; sea state 2-3; cloudy initially, clearing later

It was with much excitement and anticipation that we boarded the Pace at 23.30; our first survey for over 2 years and both ready to rediscover the joys of being out on the Irish Sea again. After being greeted warmly by our friendly steward Tomasz, enthusiastically recounting all his experiences of seeing seals and dolphins on the Dublin crossing, we were shown to our cabins for a few hours’ sleep.

After enjoying a hearty breakfast, we were on the bridge and ready for a day’s recording by 07.30. Conditions were good with calm seas, improving light, great clarity of views and thankfully no repeat of the stormy weather from the previous week. By this time the Pace was just 3 hours out of Dublin with the distant shapes of the hills along the Irish coast already in sight. After a relatively quiet start, bird sightings began to pick up with both single and small groups of adult and juvenile Guillemot, either as flotillas or in their characteristically determined flight, as well as good numbers of soaring Gannet which are always such a delight to see.

Gannet (Library photo: Rob Petley-Jones)

Then, low over the water, a group of Common Scoter came into view as we approached closer towards the coast, with their distinctive fast and direct flight. Sadly, too far away for identification, we spotted a large flock of birds with frenzied activity very near the coastline, obviously finding some rich pickings and with the tantalising prospect of some potential marine mammals too.

The ship slowed down considerably some way out of Dublin, our rate of approach seemingly determined by both very careful and safe navigation to avoid localised hazards as well as the ever-challenging system of the daily to-and-fro of traffic in and out of port. This gave us welcome time to record the increasing numbers of gulls as we neared the harbour entrance as well as large numbers of Cormorant resting along the rocks and on the buoys. It was here in the harbour that, with great pleasure, we saw our first Black Guillemot of the day, resplendent in their winter plumage.

As always, the remarkable skills of the captain and crew was on show as they manoeuvred the ship into its berth and then the process of loading and unloading began. After an hour relaxing in the passenger lounge once again Tomasz, our friendly steward, provided us with a very welcome lunch, made extra special with a serving of his delicious homemade soup – a classic Polish recipe! He took great pride and delight in introducing us to the Grey Seal he sees regularly in the port who obligingly appeared as if on cue! On a sadder note, he showed us with great concern the photos of a basking shark found dead across the bulbous bow of one of the ships this summer, perhaps a casualty of a tragic collision?

After a brief spell out on deck enjoying some fresh air, watching the fascinating comings and goings around the harbour and spotting some more Black Guillemots, it was time to return to the bridge for the homeward leg of our survey. Again, very calm conditions with good visibility and a couple of ‘Commic’ Terns was a nice surprise as we sailed out of the harbour limits.

Fulmar (Library photo: Rob Petley-Jones)

The promise of brightening skies greeted us as we headed out to sea with a steady stream of Gannet and more Guillemot with the occasional Fulmar and young Kittiwakes in their distinctive plumage. However, the doubtless highlight of the otherwise quiet return journey was when Jenny spotted two separate pods of Common Dolphin, the second of which passed literally right in front of the ship. We had wonderful views of the animals leaping high out of the water showing us their beautiful patterning and effortless agility! Always such a thrill to see.

Common Dolphin (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

The wind picked up, swell increased and the light steadily faded as we headed back towards the Lancashire coast, with just the faintest outline of the Isle of Man and Anglesey to port and starboard. As darkness descended, we concluded our recording and reflected on another successful and enjoyable survey.

Our arrival back to the port at Heysham brought a small complication in the form of one of our vehicles failing to start. However, the very helpful officer in the Seatruck office was immediately out to help us and in no time, he had remedied the problem and had us safely on our way!

Our sincere thanks to Seatruck, captain Jaak Kärm and the crew of the Pace for all their help, kind hospitality and valuable ongoing support for MARINElife and our surveys. And special mentions must go of course to both our friendly steward Tomasz and the Seatruck officer who could not have been more helpful.

Jenny Ball and Alison McAleer, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

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