Survey Reports

2019-09-20 - Poole–Cherbourg

Survey details

Survey route: Poole–Cherbourg

Company: Brittany Ferries

Sea region: English Channel

Survey start date: 2019-09-20

Number of nights: Day sailing

Sunset over Brownsea Island

Survey sightings

Cetacean sightings: N/A

Bird sightings: N/A

Other animals: N/A


The team arrived to Poole ferry port in positive spirits, since the sun was already shining and it looked to be a pleasant day ahead. After boarding the Barfleur the team were able to gain access to the bridge around 45 minutes after departure.  

After setting off into the English Channel, the waves and wind largely picked up to a sea state 5, making spotting wildlife tricky. Gannets were the first signs of life, often flying alongside the bridge wings. Despite good visibility, within the first 30 minutes of surveying, the swell picked up to moderate height (1-2m), and white streaks soon littered the sea surface with longer waves producing more frequent spray, building to a sea state 6. Despite no cetaceans being seen on the first leg of the trip, a great skua and a couple of brief terns were spotted on route.

On approach into port the team retired from the bridge to allow for the tug to assist the docking of the Barfleur and ventured out onto the outside decks to enjoy a final burst of summer weather. Looking down the side as the ship manoeuvred into position, some birds were encountered taking advantage of the disturbance, thrusting up silt and prey. Among them were black headed gulls (winter plumage), greater black backed gulls and herring gulls.

The occasional land bird flew over us too including some starlings, a goldfinch and a swallow. Most surprising of all however, was the lightning blue flash of a kingfisher which appeared (we think) from the car decks and circled over the water across the harbour and back onto the car decks below! Not a species the team were expecting to see and definitely the highlight of the trip!

Whilst we were gazing down in hopes of catching a glimpse of the kingfisher again, blue tinted barrel jellyfish were frequently rising and sinking to the surface, again, swirled upwards by the ships’ thrusters.


After having lunch on board, the team were able to survey almost instantly after leaving Cherbourg’s dockside. We had good views of cormorants and gulls on the zig-zag out of the harbour walls. Unfortunately, the conditions had not improved and were faced once again with a sea state 6 and later on a heavy (2-3 metre) swell. Occasional guillemots were seen resting on the water or flying low across the water in a line, flapping fast through the wind, all in their winter plumage.

Despite the team’s best efforts, the conditions did not allow us to spot any marine mammals on this occasion, but thoroughly enjoyed the trip.

Perhaps due to the turbulent conditions across the Channel, a number of flotsam and jetsam debris were sighted, which is included in the list below. Oystercatchers were seen foraging on the beach as we neared Poole harbour and were treated to a beautiful sunset after leaving the bridge to absorb the views as we sailed past Brownsea island.

We would like to thank Brittany Ferries, the Captain and his crew for welcoming us on board the Barfleur. Thank you to the team for their hard work, vigilance and support, I hope we sail again soon.

Birds Seen:
Gannet, herring gull, great black backed gull, black headed gull, great skua, cormorant, tern species, guillemot, oystercatcher, kingfisher, swallow, starling, goldfinch, pigeon and unidentified passerine

Other animals:
Barrel jellyfish
Red football, balloon, plastic bags x 2, parcel, silver drinks can, green tray, wooden palette and golf ball

Survey team members

Ruth Coxon, Eleanor Butler, Shelley Abbott, Rachel McCormick