Survey Reports

2018-09-15 - Poole–Cherbourg

Survey details

Survey route: Poole–Cherbourg

Company: Brittany Ferries

Sea region: English Channel

Survey start date: 2018-09-15

Number of nights: Day sailing

^ A stock image of a bottlenose dolphin

Meeting early at the Poole Ferry port not long after sunrise, the survey team were feeling hopeful. With mild temperatures and blue skies, it seemed to be a perfect day for surveying. After running through the protocol and sharing our sea-going stories, the team boarded the Barfleur for a hot drink and breakfast snack before leaving port.

Once introduced to the Bridge Crew we started surveying at 9:15am. The team were content with only a slight swell and a promising sea state 3 with only occasional whitecaps brushing off the waves. On the first stretch of the survey there were few birds about, spotting occasional gannets and a single cormorant.

All was quiet for over an hour and a half as we settled into survey mode. Roughly mid-way into the survey at 10:51am, one of the survey team spotted some discretely distant dark shapes at 0.9 reticules, between the Barfleur and a large cargo ship. Upon inspection these were dark grey dorsal fins. As they neared closer on the starboard side, more of them appeared and made themselves more obvious for the whole survey team as well as the Bridge Crew to see. They began breaching out the water in all directions, some twisting and turning and landing ungracefully on their backs exposing their white bellies. We were thrilled to identify these as beautiful bottlenose dolphins. After some playful leaping, in pairs, numerous dolphins including some parent-calf/parent-juvenile pairings, raced towards the bow. The remainder of the group proceeded to play in the ship’s wake, leaping out in a lively fashion once again. It was an absolute delight to witness these dolphins being so acrobatic at such a proximity! It was later the talk of the crew during our return sailing!

At 11:03 the sea state lessened to a peaceful sea state 2 with no more white caps in sight, making for great spotting conditions. Unfortunately, there were no more cetacean sightings, but we did encounter the occasional such as a single Manx shearwater, several lone great skuas, a few kittiwakes, migrating swallows and a tern species. On the approach into Cherbourg port, we encountered many sun-basking cormorants and many gulls including herring gulls, greater and lesser black backed gulls and some black headed gulls. A single blue jellyfish was also spotted on the approach.

After disembarking the Barfleur we wandered around Cherbourg soaking up the glorious September sunshine and had a bite to eat to fuel us for the second watch.

On the return leg, the conditions were much the same, a welcoming sea state 2. Further into the survey, both the swell and wavelets lessened, tantalising us with the prospect of wavelets turning into ripples, almost becoming a sea state 1. As sunset approached a large brown duck was seen sitting on the water which looked rather like a female eider. After a beautiful sunset, the light faded, and we reluctantly finished our survey. Whilst there were no marine mammals seen on the return, it was a very pleasant experience and great practise for the newer survey members.

I would like to thank Brittany Ferries along with the Captain and his crew for welcoming us on board the Barfleur and for expressing an interest in ORCA’s work. It was a very positive experience for the survey team and I thank them for their hard work and devotion to ORCA.

Bottlenose Dolphins: 16

Birds at Sea: gannet, cormorant, Manx shearwater, great skua, kittiwake, swallow, tern species, herring gull, lesser black backed gull, great black backed gull, black-headed gull, female eider duck.

Birds on land: feral pigeon, house sparrow

Other: blue jellyfish

^ The Survey Team

Survey team members

Ruth Coxon, Georgie Evans, Andrew Boulton, Chris Wardle