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Heysham-Warrenpoint survey 3-4 August

This was my first survey on the Irish Sea, comprising a two-way crossing of eight to nine hours each way, carried out on consecutive days.

Arriving in Heysham port, I reported to the Seatruck office where I was given my passes and whisked aboard the ‘Precision’ vehicle ferry. Here I was welcomed by the steward, who furnished me with a hearty breakfast before taking me up to the bridge for another warm welcome, this time from the captain.

In spite of the recent diversion of the jet stream and associated strong winds and rain experienced across the country, conditions appeared favourable as we set sail.

Sandwich Tern (Library photo: Rob Petley-Jones)

Sightings were slow for the first hour or so with Sandwich Tern the most numerous bird species recorded, along with small numbers of Herring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull. The sea state increased to the point at which whitecaps were frequent and the ship was rolling a little, but conditions calmed significantly as we approached the Isle of Man.

Around two hours out from Heysham, the first Manx Shearwater (including one raft of 64 birds), Kittiwake and Fulmar were encountered, the former two species then forming the majority of birds seen until arrival at Carlingford Lough, along with occasional Guillemot sitting on the water. Closing in on the mouth of the sea lough, three Black Guillemot were recorded before the survey ended. Proceeding up the lough to our destination at Warrenpoint, several dozen Grey Seal could be seen lying out on exposed rocks.

Manx Shearwater (Library photo: Rob Petley-Jones)

The staff at the Seatruck office were very helpful and I was even given a lift to my accommodation, where I spent a comfortable night before the return leg of the survey the following morning.

Conditions for the return journey were similar, although slightly calmer throughout, but again with cumulus and cirrus clouds among blue skies.

Bird numbers were markedly higher, particularly for Manx Shearwater, Gannet and Guillemot, including moderately sized flocks of shearwaters and a flotilla of 68 Guillemot. Unfortunately, some dead birds including a Gannet and several probable Guillemot were seen floating on the water surface, surely victims of avian flu.

Bottlenose Dolphin (Library photo: Carol Farmer-Wright)

Around halfway through the return journey, three dolphins were seen fleetingly as they swam at speed head on to the ship, but these could not be identified with certainty. The brief impression of their size and colour suggested Bottlenose Dolphin.

I would like to thank the Captains of both the ‘Precision’ and the ‘Performance’, their bridge officers, stewards, and crews for their friendly welcomes and hospitality. I would also like to thank the Seatruck staff at Heysham and Warrenpoint for their assistance.

Pat Hatch, Research Surveyor for MARINElife (registered charity no.: 1110884, reg. company no.: 5057367)

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals

Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus (possible) 3


Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 10

Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 267

Gannet Morus bassanus 191

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 5

Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 21

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 16

Herring Gull Larus argentatus 23

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1

Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis 10

‘Commic’ Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 2

Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle 3

Guillemot Uria aalge 144

Auk sp. 3

Gull sp. 10

Tern sp. 7

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