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PELTIC 2022 - the Cardigan Bay transects

Two of our surveyors, Peter Howlett and Robin Langdon, have joined the CEFAS Endeavour for a week-long, survey to cover some transects in Cardigan Bay they were unable to cover during the main survey in October 2022. Here's the first report from their voyage.

Back to Falmouth

Yes, I know it’s 2023 but the Cardigan Bay transects we’re about to do should have been carried out in the PELTIC 2022 survey – had we been able to complete the survey. So, somewhat belatedly, we head down to Falmouth to join the CEFAS Endeavour on Sunday 12 March and promptly get stuck in port for a day due to bad weather, not a good start. All a bit of deja vu for me and it only feels like a couple of weeks since I was here but this is Robin's first trip on the CEFAS Endeavour.

Tuesday 14 March - the weather relents enough for us to venture out for the 20 hour transit to the north end of Cardigan Bay, the first few hours are a little tough with 4-5m seas left over from the blow over the weekend but the wind and swell drop off as we head north and the seas and sky are, for the best part, blue. There’s plenty for the two of us to look at too, with large numbers of birds between Falmouth and Land’s End and still reasonable numbers until dusk at the southern end of the Celtic Sea.

Best were the large number of Manx Shearwater, with several hundred seen during the day. Fresh in from traversing the Atlantic from wintering grounds around the Falkland Islands, it’s always a joy to watch these ocean wanderers scything over the sea (photos 1 and 2).

There were large numbers of Gannet around, especially in Falmouth Bay, nice to see after the devastation of HPAI last summer and autumn. However, looking at some photos several of the birds had the dark eye characteristic of the haemorrhaging caused by HPAI (photo 3). These birds could obviously still see and looked otherwise healthy but until someone tags one and finds it still alive in a few months we won’t know whether these are survivors or new victims of the disease. If the latter it doesn’t bode well for the summer in the Gannet colonies around the UK.

Dark-eyed Gannet

A good variety of gulls were seen during the day, best was a second winter Little Gull, though sadly far too distant for a photo. Otherwise, we saw most of the regular gulls you might expect to see off the southwest of the UK. From largest to smallest:

Great Black-backed Gull – adult (photo 4) and 3rd winter (photo 5)

Herring Gull – adult (photo 6), 2nd winter (photo 7) and 1st winter (photo 8)

Lesser Black-backed Gull – adult (photo 9), 1st winter (photo 10)

Common Gull – adult (photo 11)

Common Gull

Kittiwake – 1st winter (photo 12)


Fulmar had been notable by their absence until we came upon a flock of 20 near Land's End and after that they put in a regular appearances (photo 13 from a previous survey).

Razorbill, Guillemot and Puffin were seen in reasonable numbers, although I didn’t get a chance to get any photos during the day and the odd Cormorant and Shag added to the diversity (photos 14 & 15).

Despite the sea conditions we managed a couple of encounters with Common Dolphins by dint of them throwing themselves out the water as they came into bow ride – no photos of these so, in case you’ve forgotten what one looks like, here’s one from a previous PELTIC survey (photo 16).

Wednesday 15 March – the first day of transects in Cardigan Bay. We’re treated to a lovely sunrise behind Bardsey (photo 17) but the day went downhill quite rapidly with the sun disappearing after 20 minutes and cloud increasing with light rain from about 10:00. There was a light SW wind to start off but that soon backed around to the SSE and freshened to 25-30 knots by mid-afternoon, fortunately we were in the lee of the southern end of Cardigan Bay which meant the swell was kept minimal.

Bardsey sunrise

Sadly, there wasn’t much to be seen in the two transects covered today, with a trickle of Kittiwake, Razorbill and Guillemot to keep us going along with the odd Manx Shearwater. We were saved from a cetacean-free day with the appearance of a small group of eight Common Dolphins just as we finished the second transect.

We’re hoping for more tomorrow but the weather forecast doesn’t bode well…

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