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Portsmouth-Jersey survey 11 November

We commenced our survey from Portsmouth to Jersey just before the Nab Tower, on a sunny, late autumn morning. The sea was calmer than expected, considering the stormy weather the day before, so the conditions were ideal for spotting any ‘fins’ that might be about during our survey.

Just after taking the first effort readings, a large gathering of Herring Gull was spotted rafting on the surface. Counting skills were quickly put to the test as there were around 70 birds, including juveniles as well as adults and surprisingly, just one Great Black-backed Gull amongst them.

Boat on fire (Rick Morris)

We were alarmed to hear a Mayday call come over the ship’s radio and we spotted a large plume of black smoke coming from a boat off the coast of the Isle of Wight. Soon after, the local lifeboat services and the Coastguard helicopter were seen approaching the stricken vessel. Thankfully we later heard that those onboard had been accounted for and were safe.

Although we spotted the odd Kittiwake, Herring Gull and Gannet, sightings became scarce as we sailed across the main shipping lanes. However, as we were approaching Cap de la Hague, we spotted 3 Common Dolphin, 2 of which swam in front of the bow and the other decided to try the jacuzzi effect in the wake behind the ship!

Then the next highlight was to spot a solitary Arctic Skua. Skuas are one of the pirates of the sea, chasing other sea birds and stealing food from them, although in this case, no other birds were in the vicinity to have their ‘lunch’ stolen.

Condor Islander (Rick Morris)

As we were approaching Alderney, we were able to get a good view of the latest addition to the Condor Ferries fleet - the Condor Islander, which is similar to the Commodore Clipper being a conventional passenger and freight vessel. In May 2024, this survey route will possibly be on the Islander, so we look forward to that.

The weather had become overcast although the sun did continue to shine through gaps in the clouds, producing a rather surreal view of Sark as it looked as if that island was ‘floating’ above the sea - an unusual trick of the eye worthy of a photo or two!

Then the next highlight of another solitary bird and a less recorded species, a Little Gull. Then several minutes later, another Little Gull was spotted.

Little Gull (Library photo: Peter Howlett)

Before reaching port, captain Wroe came to have a chat with us and mentioned that he used to be on the Pride of Bilbao when MARINElife were then called Biscay Dolphin Research Program (BDRP) and was aware of the charity and its work. Rick mentioned that it was good to see him again after all those years!

As we approached Jersey, we were losing daylight, so we ended the survey. However, we were entertained by watching the pilot’s launch approach, and what we thought was a ‘leap of faith’ as the pilot transferred onto the Clipper to assist in bringing her into the port of St Helier. Shortly afterwards, we were followed in by another of the Condor Ferries fleet, the Condor Voyager, as she also came into berth.

We then packed up our survey equipment and thanked the captain and his crew before leaving the bridge. 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 Alex Wroe and his 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)


Outbound: Wind W-NW backing SE 2-3 inc. 5, sea state 2-3

Summary of sightings

Marine Mammals

Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis 3


Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus 1

Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo 1

Gannet Morus bassanus 2

Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus 1

Herring Gull Larus argentatus 92

Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla 5

Little Gull Hydrocoloeus minutus 2

Gull sp.3

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