Heysham-Dublin survey report 13 September
Summary of sightings:
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 2
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 3
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 15
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 10
Gannet Morus bassanus 102
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 24
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 117
Shearwater sp. 2
European Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 1
Guillemot Uria aalge 214
Razorbill Alca torda 36
Puffin Fratercula arctica 3
Auk sp. 120
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 11
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 7
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 4
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 19
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 65
Gull sp. 95
Common Tern Sterna hirundo 24
Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis 7
Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1
Pomarine Skua Stercorarius pomarinus 1
Curlew Numenius arquata 2
Swallow Hirundo rustica 1
Weather: wind: N force 1-3; sea state: 2-3; cloudy initially, clearing later
A smooth transfer to the Seatruck Pace late on Monday night allowed several hours of sleep and an early breakfast before we began the survey at 07.00. Bird sightings were initially slow but as we approached the Irish coast we began to see more activity, with numbers of Gannet, Manx Shearwater and Guillemot in particular. A brief encounter with a dark Arctic Skua was followed by an equally short view of a pair of Common Dolphin which sped towards to bow of the ship for a little fun! A number of immature gulls proved difficult to positively identify but assessing the age of the many juvenile Gannet was more rewarding!
The approach to Dublin harbour usually allows us to see a number of Black Guillemot but today there were none, so we had to make do with spotting the several Mediterranean Gull amongst the gull flocks that were circling the wakes of departing vessels at the harbour entrance. A couple of Grey Seal gazed on as the Pace was expertly docked by Captain Suharevs and his crew, and we descended to the lounge for a welcome lunch.
It has always been an expectation of MARINElife survey teams that we would record a Basking Shark on one of our trips with Seatruck but there have been extremely few sightings over the many years of survey, so that we wonder if there are any actually in the Irish Sea! Well, as proof that these magnificent animals are still present here, there was an unfortunate encounter for one poor Basking Shark a couple of weeks before this survey, and one of the crew showed us a photo of the poor deceased animal draped across the bulbous bow of the ship. A sad case of ‘wrong place – wrong time’!
With fewer trailers to load today, the Pace left Dublin an hour earlier than expected, allowing us a longer afternoon period to survey the wildlife. More Manx Shearwater sightings were made but numbers were well down on previous surveys, as most non-breeding birds have already left UK waters for the warmth of the South Atlantic. Several times through the afternoon we came across seabird feeding activity over fish shoals, with some late Sandwich Tern and Common Tern being recorded. It was very satisfying to see a fine pale form Pomarine Skua as it sped past the bow of the Pace, but most excitement was reserved for the tiny Storm Petrel that passed through the binocular view as we were trying to identify a strange bird (which turned out to be a Kittiwake!)
One current element of the MARINElife surveys in these difficult times is to chart the impact of bird flu on seabirds, by recording any dead seabirds seen in the water. This survey recorded seven dead Gannet and two dead auks, where none would have been seen in previous years. It begs the question as to how many dead seabirds there actually floating across the expanse of the ocean, when we see this worrying number on our very narrow transect route.
With clearing skies as the sun sank, we waited to see if the phenomenon known as the Green Flash would happen at sunset. We finished the survey five minute before sunset and watched as the sun slowly sank below the horizon, when we were rewarded with a very brief but definite flash of green as the last of the sun’s rim disappeared! A very satisfying way to end a reward and full day on the Irish Sea.
Our thanks as ever to Captain Victor Suharevs and his crew for their warm and friendly welcome aboard the Pace, and to Seatruck for their continuing valuable support of the work of MARINElife.
Nuala Campbell and Rob Petley-Jones, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)