Survey Reports

2019-05-07 - Aberdeen–Lerwick

Survey details

Survey route: Aberdeen–Lerwick

Company: NorthLink

Sea region: North Sea

Survey start date: 2019-05-07

Number of nights: 2

^ Bottlenose dolphin breaching

Having met at Aberdeen ferry terminal the team were excited as the weather was extremely good.


On boarding the MV Hjaltland, purser Matthew took us to the bridge to start our survey where captain Sean Smith and his officers greeted us warmly.


Having manoevered us though the very tight harbour and reached the breakwater we were able to start our survey and almost immediately the first call of 3 went out with a total of 6 of the local bottlenose dolphins spotted.


The sea state was excellent, varying from 1-2 with a moderate swell and, in total, there were 14 further sightings consisting of unidentified small cetaceans, common and grey seals and harbour porpoise before we had to stop for the night.


The following morning we awoke alongside Fair Isle, with similar conditions although we had no sightings.


Once the ship had docked we headed for the car we had hired for the day. Hoping we might find Orca, or otters we set off north heading for Eshaness cliffs where the captain had told us the Orca had been seen most recently.


On the way we found numerous lochans and one, next to the road, had 3 red throated divers in full breeding plumage swimming and posing as if inviting us to take photographs.


From the cliffs, no Orca were visable, but were lucky enough to spot 3 Risso’s dolphins, a species that in Shetland is at the most northern limit of it’s global range.


We then headed towards Lunnasting and Nesting hoping for the elusive otters which also eluded us but again managed to spot 4 harbour porpoise feeding in the bay along with several great northern divers.


At Freester we saw what looked like small rocky islands which, when examined, were covered in common seals, almost doubling the size of the islands. A very enjoyable day on Shetland mainland.


After leaving Lewick harbour we restarted our survey with blue skies and a calm sea and soon saw both a common and grey seal.


Close to Sumburgh head the call “sighting” a bushy blow had been seen, but no body, an unidentified whale left us debating the possibility it might have been a humpback whale but without seeing the animal we could only guess.A couple more seals were spotted before it was too dark to continue.


The final transect into Aberdeen had the worst conditions of the trip with a heavy swell and a sea state of 4. However a seal was spotted after almost a hour approximately 30 minutes later, just as we were approaching Aberdeen harbour a couple of bottlenose dolphins breached and again 6 individuals were spotted around the harbour entrance feeding, possibly some of the same dolphins we saw on the first transect.


We would like to thank Northlink ferries for this wonderful opportunity, especially the captain and his wonderful crew who made us feel so welcome.


Mammals seen:-


From ship:-


Unidentified whale 1


Bottlenose dolphin 12


Harbour porpoise 7


Unidentified cetacean 2


Grey seal  6


Common seal 3


Unidentified seal 3


From land:-


Risso’s dolphin 3


Harbour porpoise 4


Grey seal 1


Common seal 11


Birds seen:-


From ship:


Gannet, Cormorant, Great and lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Kittiwake, Fulmar, ArcticTern, Great Skua, possible Artic Skua, Common Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Manx Shearwater, Mute Swan.


From land:-


Red throated diver, great northern diver, feral pigeon, rock dove, wood pigeon, skylark, swallow, house martin, gannet, cormorant, shag, great and lesser black-backed gull, herring gull, kittiwake, fulmar, black headed gull, common gull, great skua, common guillemot, black guillemot, razorbill, puffin, meadow pipit, rock pipit, wheatear, carrion crow, hooded crow, raven, jackdaw, whooper swan, greylag goose, mallard, eider, tufted duck, goosander, red breasted merganser, turnstone, ringed plover, oystercatcher, lapwing, whimbrel, curlew and redshank, common starling, blackbird and house sparrow.

^ Dolphin seen on survey

Survey team members

Mary Hill, Marta Soeffker, Stephen Hedley, John Crosbie