Summer has arrived and the vessel had a full complement of vehicles and passengers for the outward and return crossings. The route passes near Alderney and has a stop off in Guernsey in both directions, with the halfway point at Jersey. Weather was good throughout though we did have a period of mist on the approach to Guernsey on our way out that reduced visibility for a while.
The crossing was quiet initially with few sightings, but the shipping channel was busy with small boats and Portland was clear to the west of us. Throughout much of the passage we saw many jellyfish, including Compass, Blue and Barrel. Then as we passed between Casquets Lighthouse and the Gannet colony on Ortac we saw our first small pod of Common Dolphin, but like most sightings it was only brief.
There were large numbers of Gannet as we passed Ortac, though more on the return journey when we were closer to it; these were of a variety of ages. Approaching Guernsey we also saw a Storm Petrel and a group of 9 terns, unfortunately they were too distant to confirm whether they were Common or Arctic.
The waters around the Channel Islands were good for sightings of dolphin, mostly small pods of Common Dolphin, but also singles of Bottlenose Dolphin. There were also large groups of shearwater rafting on the water, up to 250 in one flock, that partly took off as we passed. Many were clearly Balearic Shearwater, but the view was too fleeting of the more distant birds to enable positive identification as to whether Manx or Balearic – or indeed Sooty as we managed to identify one amongst the flock.
The Guernsey to Jersey leg was short but being able to stay on board in Jersey meant we could have lunch without going ashore. Leaving Guernsey on the return leg we had several sightings of dolphins, but we were also fortunate enough to see a Fin Whale that surfaced four times in a short space of time, though not very close to us. There were also further flocks of shearwaters.
About halfway back to Poole there was a very large feeding frenzy happening out to starboard, about a kilometre away. The sea boiled and Gannet were diving in amongst gulls but try as we might we could not identify any fins in the boiling water.
Sightings quietened down as we approached Poole with a few Guillemot and a handful of gull species plus an occasional Shag, though Gannet remained with us to the end. We ended the survey just before the chain ferry and thanked the captain and staff for all their interest, help and hospitality. Cabin staff showed a particular interest in what we had seen but which they were not able to see as they were working.
Kevin Waterfall and Elisabeth Waterfall, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884)
Wind S-SW force 1-2, sea state 1 - 2 ad occasionally mirror calm, dry with variable cloud cover
Summary of sightings:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 2
Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 19
Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus 1
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus 40
Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus 11
Commic Tern Sterna hirundo/paradisaea 11
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 2
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 3
Gannet Morus bassanus 303
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 4
Guillemot Uria aalge 13
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 18
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 10
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 107
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 7
Sooty Shearwater Ardenna griseus 1
Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus 1
Auk sp. 61
Gull sp. 5
Shearwater sp. 376