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PELTIC 2021 update 3 - 8 October

We spent the morning of the 7th drifting around Weymouth Bay while the CEFAS scientists calibrated the sonar. The longest part of this is trying to locate a metal sphere 6cm in diameter, suspended beneath the ship on 4 lengths of nylon attached to four automated fishing rods, in a sonar beam only about 30 cm across. The sphere can be moved around by the current in a different way to the ship – just to make it even more difficult. Once captured the calibration is relatively quick and we were done by 14:00.

Photo 1: Adult Mediterranean Gull

There was little to do other than stand on the bridge looking out for any interesting birds. There were plenty of Mediterranean Gulls about (photo 1) and we even had a couple of Arctic Skua past heading west. Despite the murky conditions there appeared to be only one terrestrial bird aboard – a Chiffchaff seen a few times during the morning.

Photo 2: Juvenile Gannet

The other activity high on the agenda was to have a shakedown trawl. So, for this we headed back towards the transect we covered yesterday where some schools of fish had been seen. Fortunately, they were still there so trawling operations commenced and once again all there was to do was keep an eye open for wildlife. There were plenty of Gannet passing us heading west, including quite a few juveniles (photo 2). The highlight though was a light morph Arctic Skua which was sat on the sea ahead of us and flew off a couple of times, the 3rd time sitting on the water till it was close enough for a decent photo (photo 3 & 4). Trawling complete we headed off into the Channel to do some more water and plankton station as it started to get dark.

We started the 8th about 20 miles south of Portland Bill ready for our next transect. Conditions were excellent with light easterly winds and a sea state of 3 or less for the whole day. Despite these conditions cetaceans weren’t playing ball and it wasn’t until we were well inshore that we logged our first cetaceans – Common Dolphin – albeit very distant. These were soon followed by a second group. We also logged several tuna but again these were very distant. The most notable birds seen during this transect and the start of the next were 32 Mediterranean Gulls – in one morning becoming the second highest total we’ve logged on the Peltic surveys. They were mainly adults but this lovely 1st winter came in close (photo 5).

Photo 5: 1st winter Mediterranean Gull
Photo 6: Common Dolphin

The next transect carried on a similar vein with a few more Common Dolphin sightings and the first coming in to bow ride (photo 6). There were more tuna sightings, again all bar one were very distant and nearly all involved single animals making single jumps or splashes so no hope of getting a photo. The best birds on this transect were 29 Storm Petrels (photo 7), with easterly winds it’s not always certain we’ll see any as they seem to move offshore.

Photo 7: Storm Petrel

A break for a trawl led to a few Great Black-backed Gulls, Gannet coming in to investigate and these attracted the attentions of four Great Skua (photo 8) which were soon harassing the gulls and Gannets.

Photo 8: Great Skua

A quick transit and on to our third and final transect of the day (only halfway along by the time we had to stop as it got dark). Another flock of 17 Storm Petrel were a highlight as was a close view of a leaping tuna – too quick for a photo but close enough. Just as we turned onto the transect, we could see Royal Caribbean’s huge liner Anthem of the Seas complete with its North Star observation capsule mounted on an arm that takes you over 300’ above the waves – certainly looked a long way up (photo 9). We didn’t get to see a sunset this evening but a container ship passing in front of the sunlit clouds added a little theatre (photo 10).

Photo 9: Anthem of the Seas

We’ll be back at this point for dawn tomorrow to resume our northward journey on this transect and currently the winds are forecast to remain relatively light.

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