Penzance-Isles of Scilly survey report 21 August
Summary of sightings:
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 2
Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena 6
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 36
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 1,639
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus 2
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 54
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 18
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 13
Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 1
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 14
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis
Larus sp. 8
Outward – overcast with some initial rain, visibility poor becoming good, wind SW F4
Return – misty, visibility mainly poor, wind Sly F3
The Scillonian was moored for boarding in Penzance harbour and has been serving the Islands since 1977. Built in Appledore she is one of only three ships in the world still carrying the status of a Royal Mail Ship.
Departure was prompt, and after leaving the harbour we were welcomed by the very helpful captain and crew on the bridge to begin our survey. They are excellent and knowledgeable wildlife spotters and mentioned good numbers of Common Dolphin and Manx Shearwater recently. They also spotted the only Storm Petrel of the day, a diminutive almost sparrow sized ocean wanderer. Sadly, they had also noticed the appearance of dead Gannets, victims of the bird flu epidemic which has swept through many of our internationally important seabird breeding colonies this summer.
The weather had become somewhat Cornish with sea mist and viewing conditions were often close to, so that more distant animals are invariably missed. This skewing of the data is allowed for in survey methodology as environmental conditions are regularly recorded. However Common Dolphin can rarely resist the opportunity for a spot of bow riding and excellent close views were had of these energetic creatures. As usual the little Harbour Porpoise behaved in a shyer, more retiring manner and was subsequently more difficult to spot.
This is an important route for surveying seabirds but unfortunately one of our target species – the Balearic Shearwater, remained elusive in these misty conditions. Slightly larger than the closely related Manx Shearwater, the Balearic Shearwater is brown above and brownish-white below; compared to the stark black upperparts and bright white undersides of the Manx Shearwater. They tend to have slightly different flight too, with Balearic doing much more flapping and less gliding than Manx, which tend to glide on stiff wings interspersed with three or four flaps.
Passing the Minack Theatre on our return to Penzance we could see well over a thousand “Manx Shearwater” streaming past the cliffs heading south-west. Very soon now they will be heading for the coast of South America to spend the winter. During their potentially long lives an individual could clock up a staggering total of 5 million miles.
Our thanks go to the Isles of Scilly steam ship company staff and the crew of the Scillonian for their hospitality and assistance during this survey.
Maggie Gamble and Mary Wood, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)