Survey Reports

2019-05-17 - Poole–Cherbourg

Survey details

Survey route: Poole–Cherbourg

Company: Brittany Ferries

Sea region: English Channel

Survey start date: 2019-05-17

Number of nights: Day sailing

As the ORCA survey team passed through passport control at Poole, we were stopped by a Border Force Official who wanted to know;
‘Why we were off to Cherbourg?’ 
‘Did we have more than 1000 Euros’?  
‘What do you have in your bags’?


All valid questions, from the official carrying out customs controls at the port. As you can imagine, our answer was quite simple.
‘We are crossing the English Channel to record sightings of whales and dolphins seen on our round trip today’. Oh, and we made the most of this opportunity to explain the work of ORCA and we were allowed on our merry way. Within 30 minutes we had started our survey.


Our sea state fluctuated between 2 - 3 which is more conducive to whale and dolphin surveying. In these conditions, surveyors would be able to see the ‘splashes’ created by dolphins, a ‘plume of mist’ from a Minke whale blow or maybe a ‘small dorsal fin’ breaking the surface, as the elusive harbour porpoise takes a breath. 


Weather conditions also affect our ability to survey and today, our weather was extremely over-cast, low light conditions and reduced visibility due to mist. Whist we diligently recorded our effort and weather data, we were hopeful for a sighting. The only sighting on our outbound leg occurred just after we came off effort and started docking in Cherbourg; a cheeky grey seal popped up at the side of the Barfleur.  


All was not lost, we had our inbound leg to complete and after a very quick stop-off in the terminal at Cherbourg, we were back on board and eager to start the second part of our survey.  


Although our sea state had improved slightly, ranging between 2 - 1; our visibility became more and more challenging. Over-cast, poor light, mist remained with us and for good measure we had rain to contend with! 


Though all was not lost, within 20 minutes, we had a sighting of 2 harbour porpoise and then all went quiet again. No splashes, no plum of mist… then as we approached Poole, we had a quick glimpse of a seal, only seeing its back and rear flippers, meaning we could not identify the species; though based on the area it is likely to be a Grey Seal. Typical, just as we finished the survey; we had a harbour porpoise surfacing near by. The whole team got a split-second view before it disappeared – what a nice end to our survey.


On behalf of ORCA, the survey team, would like to thank the Captain, crew of the Barfleur and staff at Brittiany Ferries for their continued support and allowing the team to conduct the survey.


Cetaceans seen:


3 Harbour porpoise


Marine Mammals Seen:


1 Grey Sea


1 unidentified seal


Birds seen:


Black-headed gull, lesser and great black-back gull, common tern, cormorant, common gull, gannet, shearwater, puffin, swallow and herring gull

Survey team members

Jayne Dobner (Team Leader), Stella Rustamoua, Cath Toogood, Karely Khan