2019-04-26 - Portsmouth-Caen
We were excited and keen to start our survey across the English Channel to the port of Caen on the Mont St Michel, so the team arrived in plenty of time at Portsmouth International Ferry Terminal to ensure we were checked in and to collect our tickets. The Brittany Ferries check-in staff are always so friendly and helpful and chatted to us about our upcoming journey and wished us good luck.
There were reports that Storm Hannah was fast approaching the British Isles on the day of our survey and could bring a period of unsettled weather and a rough crossing, but that didn’t deter us as we were ready to look for cetaceans! We joined the other passengers on the bus to the ferry and were welcomed on board by the friendly guest services team who escorted us to the bridge to begin our survey after we had departed Portsmouth Harbour. The bridge crew were very welcoming and accommodating and we quickly began our survey with a sea state 3, light swell, excellent visibility and no precipitation. As we moved further out into the channel, we observed gannet, a group of 40+ possible common tern and cormorant racing across the waves.
During the crossing, one of the bridge crew approached the team to say that she had observed a group of dolphins outside the harbour earlier in the week and after looking at the ID book with her, we determined that they were probably bottlenose. The first and only cetacean sighting of the survey was near the French coastline when a solitary harbour porpoise broke the surface ahead of the ship on the starboard side. It was moving quickly and surfaced three times before disappearing beneath the waves. Even though it was a brief encounter, it was wonderful to see!
We disembarked and headed to the terminal café and as we placed our orders the owner saw our ORCA polo shirts and asked about our research. We had a lovely chat and he was surprised when we told him that cetaceans are often observed in the English Channel and we had seen a harbour porpoise just before the ship arrived. After enjoying our scrumptious lunch, we headed back to the ship to commence our second transect to Portsmouth in a fluctuating 3-4 sea state and light rain which reduced visibility.
Even though there were no further cetaceans, we enjoyed observing the bridge crew at work and the occasional common gull and shearwater crossing the bow. With the Isle of Wight visible in the distance and fading light, we decided to end the survey on what had been a truly wonderful crossing despite the influences of Storm Hannah. After thanking Captain Grimault and his bridge crew we left the bridge feeling happy for a great day at sea.
We would like to say a massive thank you to Captain Grimault and the crew of the Mont St Michel for making us feel so welcome and for their hospitality, and to Brittany Ferries for their continued support of ORCA.
Marine Mammals Seen:
Harbour Porpoise x 1
Common Gull, common Tern (possible), cormorant, fulmar, gannet. guillemot, kittiwake and shearwater sp.
Survey team members
Emma Howe-Andrews, George Boyer, Maria Wills, Simon Wills