Survey Reports

2018-10-07 - Plymouth-Roscoff

Survey details

Survey route: Plymouth-Roscoff

Company: Brittany Ferries

Sea region: English Channel

Survey start date: 2018-10-07

Number of nights: 1

^ Common dolphins

On waking aboard the Armorique we discovered Dan, another ORCA member was on his way to Brittany so after breakfast we explored Roscoff with him until he left for his meeting.

It was a beautiful warm day and after lunch we were suddenly joined by James from the ORCA office who was returning from his meeting in Brest, another ORCA surprise!

On boarding the ship we were escorted to the bridge, and greeted by the Captain. We starting the survey with a sea state of 1 and low swell lovely conditions which soon resulted in 2 harbour porpoise being spotted, closely followed by small pods of common dolphins attracted to the ship.

The sea state and swell gradually increased but over the first three and a half hours we had a total of 14 sightings with small groups of common dolphins, some unidentified dolphins, ending with a shoal of tuna and a final pod of common dolphins.

For the rest of the journey, although the sea state and swell decreased, there were no further sightings but some military maneuvers  were seen on approach to Plymouth.

Many thanks to the enthusiastic ORCA team and to the Captain and his team plus Brittany Ferries for allowing us to end the 2018 ferry surveys on such a high.


48 Common Dolphins

8 unidentified dolphins

2 Harbour Porpoise



Gannet, Cormorant, Fulmar, Great skua, Greater black-backed gull, Lesser black-backed gull, Herring gull, Black-headed gull, Common gull,

Little egret, Rock pipit, Turnstone, Ringed plover, Oystercatcher, Brent geese, Comic tern, Probable Dunlin, Grey wagtail, Grey heron, Dunnock, House Sparrow, House martin, Robin, starling, Carrion crow, Magpie

^ N/A

Survey team members

Mary Hill, Ali Couch, Jonathan Holt and Andy Anderson

Continue reading

2018-09-02 - Plymouth-Roscoff

Survey details

Survey route: Plymouth-Roscoff

Company: Brittany Ferries

Sea region: English Channel

Survey start date: 2018-09-02

Number of nights: 1

^ A stock image of a common dolphin

2 September 2018: English Channel 

The ORCA survey team met at the Brittany Ferries Terminal and we embarked in darkness. Our evening crossing was calm and after a good night sleep we were ready to disembark and spend a few hours exploring Roscoff.

3 September 2018: Roscoff 

We took a leisurely stroll into town and on our way to the beach stopped at the Commonwealth War Grave. One war grave is located in the communal cemetery and the grave belonged to - Tout Frank William a Pilot from the Royal New Zealand Air Force who died in 1944 aged 26.

We continued our walk to the beach to find, the tide was coming in! Although our rock pooling was cut short, we enjoyed a stroll along the beautiful clean sandy beach and along the quayside spotting 15-spine stickleback and other small shoals of fish.

The 15-spine stickleback is the only stickleback species that live in the sea; most are freshwater species and they are generally found in shallow waters in depths down to 10 or 20 metres deep. These species will never be found in completely fresh water. Being a small fish, the sea stickleback does not hunt and instead will spend time scavenging through the shallows and will feed on any dead animal matter, tiny invertebrates or marine worms which it finds.

3 September 2018: English Channel - Sea State 1 - 3 with good visibility

As we arrived on the bridge we had our first sighting of common dolphins – amazing. Throughout our crossing, the sea state ranged between 1 – 3 with a light swell. The glare to port and mist on the horizon reduced our visibility at times. Within 10 minutes we had another sighting of common dolphins, shortly followed by a sighting of an unidentified dolphin and more common dolphins.

Our sightings of dolphins continued over the next hour, then out of nowhere a large body was sighted and disappeared just as quick as it appeared; given its size and description of the shape it was possibly a Minke whale.

The ORCA team had a total of 8 sightings consisting of:

Common dolphins 14

Unidentified dolphins 7

Unidentified whale (possibly Minke whale) 1

The ORCA survey team would like to thank Brittany Ferries, the Captain and crew of the Armorique for their warm welcome and continued support.  

Survey team members

Jayne Dobner (Team Leader), Tom Welsh, Maria Freel, Jock Gardner

Continue reading

2018-08-19 - Plymouth-Roscoff

Survey details

Survey route: Plymouth-Roscoff

Company: Brittany Ferries

Sea region: English Channel

Survey start date: 2018-08-19

Number of nights: 1

^ Stock image of a bottlenose dolphin

19 August 2018: English Channel 
The ORCA survey team met at the Brittany Ferries Terminal. Our embarkation was slightly later than expected and by the time we departed Plymouth we were surrounded by the night sky.  
Our crossing was calm, the ‘fog horn’ however showed an apprence which, unfortunately, could only mean one thing – poor visibility; not a good sign for our marine mammal survey, though absolutely necessary to warn other marine traffic of our presence.   

20 August 2018: Roscoff 

After disembarkation we walked into town hoping the fog would clear as the morning temperature increased.
Over the weekend, the town had celebrated the Fête de l'Oignon de Roscoff. This annual festival celebrates the famous ‘pink’ onion which is a speciality in Roscoff.  In the 1800s the onions were sold by ‘Onion Johnnies’ who crossed the channel every August to sell their surplus crop to the British to support their families back home. They wore the black beret and striped Breton shirt and had tresses of onions strung on their shoulders and over their bicycles. 
The fog was here to stay so instead of exploring the beach and rockpools we strolled around the beautiful town and visited Church of Notre Dame de Croaz-Batz. This 16th century church has a decorative renaissance style bell tower which dominates the skyline and unique carvings of ships and a large sundial embellish the outside.

As we started to make our way back to the ferry terminal the weather seemed to improve. 

20 August 2018: English Channel Sea State 2 - 3 with poor visibility

 As we set sail, we hoped the fog had completely disappeared. We commenced our survey with feeding gannets in the distance and voilà we had our first sighting of common dolphins followed immediately by a lone bottlenose dolphin – what a fantastic start.   

Our sea state throughout our crossing ranged between 2 – 3 however, the visibility remained our biggest challenge! The fog rolled in and out, one minute we could see a couple of meters in front of the bow and the next we could see between 8 – 15 km.  This was not going to deter the team….

Next, silver flashes in the water ahead. We concluded it was most likely to be a school of tuna fish. Within minutes, a pod of common dolphins, another lone bottlenose dolphin and more common dolphins – fabulous.

Although our visibility was variable, the ORCA team had a total of 10 sightings consisting of:

Common Dolphins 18
Bottlenose Dolphins  2 (includes 1 incidental sighting)
Unidentified Dolphin 3
Tuna Fish – silver flashes
Massive thanks as always to Brittany Ferries, the captain and crew of the Armorique.

Survey team members

Jayne Dobner (Team Leader), Emily Davies, Julie Watson, Vickie Toland

Continue reading