Portsmouth-Jersey 24 June
Summary of sightings
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus 7 (6 adult and 1 juvenile)
Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus 1
Common Scoter Melanitta nigra 13
Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis 1
Gannet Morus bassanus 33
Guillemot Uria aalge 9
Gull sp. 1
Herring Gull Larus argentatus 31
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 8
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus 2
Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis 1
Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe 1
We were welcomed on board by the crew, who told us that they had seen glimpses of dolphins between Jersey and Guernsey the day before. So, as it was a beautiful sunny morning with calm seas, we hoped for similar sightings (although we were warned by the crew of possible fog which is not ideal for surveying!)
Shortly after commencing our survey, our first sighting was of two Herring Gull and a Lesser Black-backed Gull with a fish in its mouth - gulped down before we could get to our cameras!
Then we hit a bank of dense fog making visibility really poor, with the ship’s foghorn going off every couple of minutes, we wondered how long it would last and whether we’d have to end the survey until the fog cleared. Fortunately, 15 minutes later to our relief, the fog lifted, and we were back into the sunshine with great visibility.
Our next sighting was of 13 Common Scoter, flying in a long straggly line. It was rather unusual to see these dark sea ducks in mid-summer as they are normally seen during the winter months.
We noticed movement on the surface of the water which we identified as several bait balls, formed when hundreds of small fish are swimming together to protect themselves against predators. There was also a constant stream of cuttlebones amongst big clumps of seaweeds including Thong Weed and Wireweed. However, although these conditions could potentially indicate a feeding area for cetaceans, this time we didn’t spot anything underneath the waves.
About halfway between the Isle of Wight and Cap de la Hague, a solitary Grey seal was spotted ‘bottling’ on the surface fast asleep, it got a rude awakening with a large ship approaching but it quickly dived and swam away to safety.
Another unusual sighting around 20 nm off Cap de la Hague was of a single Wheatear. These birds are long-distance migrants, making their way from Africa to northern Europe in spring, with some going as far as Greenland and northeast Canada.
As we neared Alderney, Gannet numbers started to increase with eight on the starboard side, flying right across the bow and another ‘tail end Charlie’ attempting to catch up with the group. We also noticed that several butterflies were fluttering around the outer decks, including two Large Whites. They stayed with us, hitching a ride until we arrived in Guernsey.
In St Peter Port, we had a relaxing break on the outer deck in the warm sunshine. Then it was back on survey where we spotted a Lesser Black-backed Gull amongst the Herring Gull - possibly the same group as on our survey last month.
We hadn’t seen any auk species until we departed St Peter Port, when we spotted four Guillemot in quick succession, flying with their rapid wing beats near the surface of the water. Between Guernsey and Jersey, we continued to see a good variety of seabirds including a couple of Manx Shearwater, but unfortunately no cetaceans.
On our approach to Jersey, we were just thinking about ending our survey when there was a SPLASH just off the bow on the port side. At last, we were rewarded with the sight of a small pod of Bottlenose Dolphin including a juvenile jumping right out of the water in front of us. What a spectacular end to our survey!
We then packed up our survey equipment and thanked Captain Rad and his crew before leaving the bridge. It was such a lovely evening that we sat out on deck watching the sunset and listening to the Oystercatchers, until it was time for dinner. After enjoying a delicious evening meal in the Casquets Brasserie, we returned to our cabins for the overnight crossing back to Portsmouth.
Our thanks go to the support of Condor Ferries and Captain Rad Zelazny and all the crew on the Commodore Clipper, who made this an interesting survey and enjoyable crossing.
Rick Morris and Glynis Northwood-Long, Research Surveyors for MARINElife (Registered Charity No. 1110884; Registered Company No. 5057367)
Wind WSW to NE 2-5, sea state 2-4, sunny with occ. overcast, visibility fair to good with one patch of dense fog