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Penzance-Isles of Scilly 15 April

Summary of sightings:

Marine Mammals

Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 3

Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus (poss.) 1


Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3

Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 153

Gannet Morus bassanus 29

Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 7

Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 28

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 4

Herring Gull Larus argentatus 6

Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1

Common Gull Larus canus 1

Sandwich Tern Thalesseus sandvicensis 3

Guillemot Uria aalge 103

Razorbill Alca torda 11

Diver sp. 4

Gull sp. 72

Auk sp. 25


Outward: Light winds, bright conditions with heavy swell

Return: Light winds, overcast, reduced swell

Early arrival at Penzance allowed us the chance to enjoy some of the harbour’s wildlife, including mixed numbers of gulls and a pair of Eider which drifted reasonably close to our vessel while we were waiting to board. Judith and I were filled with some trepidation as this was not only our first survey of the season, it was also our first time doing a survey on the Scillonian III.

While the crew prepared the vessel for sea, we prepared our paperwork over a welcome coffee. It is always difficult to gauge how many survey sheets to prepare - prepare too many and we may appear too eager, not preparing enough risks looking unambitious!

When the vessel started to move, we were escorted from the saloon to the bridge to meet skipper David Redgrave and his crew. Dave introduced Judith and I to the team on the bridge while showing us where we would be based, on the fly bridge to starboard. A quick tour of the ship’s instruments and we were ready to commence our survey.

Before we were able to start the ‘recording effort’ there was a shout of ‘porpoise ahead’. This was the only Harbour Porpoise of the trip and sadly quietly showed itself before we could get it on the survey. As we started to move southward around the coast past Mousehole the sightings started to come quite thick and fast, including the unmistakable flight pattern of a Sandwich Tern.

Sandwich Tern (Library photo: Rob Petley-Jones)

The first survey of the year is always exciting, as you are able to reacquaint yourself with old friends that you have not seen for six months or so. The old friends kept coming - Guillemot; Gannet and Fulmar. Then finally, after just under 20 minutes a Manx Shearwater appeared sweeping along the bottom of the channel of the ever-increasing swell, this the first of 153 to be recorded during the day.

By the time we passed Lamorna Cove, the Scillonian III began to encounter a heavier swell, well ahead of me developing my ‘sailor’s legs’! This made photography and instrument checking a challenge as I stumbled and staggered from our survey position on the fly-bridge to the bridge proper.

During the passage to St Mary’s the survey sheets began to gather more of the regulars with Great Black-backed Gull and Kittiwake swelling the ranks. After the abysmal year for Gannet with the impacts of bird flu, it was comforting to encounter a number of adults during the survey.

Great Black-backed Gull (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

We looked hard and optimistically for an encounter with cetaceans. However, they either weren’t around or were not giving themselves up easily in the swell!

Coming into the lee of the islands the swell dropped dramatically, and combined with the weak sunshine and clear shallow waters there was almost a sub-tropical feel to our passage through the islands to St Mary’s harbour.

After a brief stopover in the islands, it was time to gear up again for the return leg. Barely 15 minutes out of St Mary we encountered our first dolphin, spotted by one of the crew members when a dark and broadly triangular dorsal fin slowly broke the surface a couple of times. This brief view was not sufficient to allow confident identification, but my first provisional attempt at identification was a slow-moving Bottlenose Dolphin but the probability of certainty was low. After a further quarter of an hour, a trio of fast-moving and splashy Common Dolphin highlighted the differences from the more languid animal we had seen earlier.

Common Dolphin (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

The return journey was peppered with seabirds, providing similar numbers and views to our outward journey. However, a Common Gull and immature Lesser Black-backed Gull were new for the survey. Approaching Penzance we scoured the waters ahead of us searching for the Harbour Porpoise which had evaded our records on the way out. No sign of this, but Judith did however spot a group of divers, mostly like the group of Great Northern Diver which have been gracing Mounts Bay.

We would like to thank David and the crew for making us feel so welcome aboard the Scillonian III.

Judith Tatem and Grahame Madge, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)

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