Penzance-St Marys (Isles of Scilly)

2019-10-23 - Penzance-St Marys

Survey details

Survey route: Penzance-St Marys

Company: Isles of Scilly Travel

Sea region: Celtic Seas

Survey start date: 2019-10-23

Number of nights: Day sailing

Survey sightings

Cetacean sightings: N/A

Bird sightings: N/A

Other animals: N/A

Weather conditions: Mainly sunny with a cool breeze, sea state mainly 2 with a moderate swell 1-2m offshore. 


This was the final Isles of Scilly ORCA survey scheduled for 2019. Being the last week of “British summer time”, the survey team assembled just after the sun had risen over the Lizard peninsular. With a promising weather forecast our expectations were high. After embarkation, we had time for a coffee and a short re-cap on survey protocols. The Scillonian departed a few minutes ahead of schedule and the team were quickly in position to start in excellent surveying conditions that continued for the whole day.


Within a couple of minutes the first sighting was called, it was a harbour porpoise passing reasonably close down the port side. Another pod of porpoises was sighted shortly after. During the next hour a number of single large splashes were seen but with no view of what made them. Each time as we approached the approximate position nothing was to be seen. This behavior pointed strongly at there being hunting bluefin tuna in the area. So it was no surprise that the next couple of sightings were of tuna breaching and splashing. The final sighting of the outward journey was a pod of 5 common dolphin.


Our stop on St Mary’s was shorter than normal as the Scillonian was scheduled to leave one hour 15 minutes earlier than normal so that it could return in daylight. This still allowed time for a picnic on the beach and a stroll taking in the views, on what was now a warm autumn day and off course keeping our eyes peeled for the blue rock thrush that was seen 5 minutes before our arrival.


On departure our first sighting was of 5 grey seals in the vicinity of the most easterly of the Eastern Isles. From then on we had regular sightings of small numbers of common dolphin. After passing Land’s End  there were two sightings of harbour porpoises and finally 4 grey seals were seen hauled out on St Clement’s Isle at Mousehole.


 Many thanks to Captain Dave Redman and his crew for their assistance and for making us extremely welcome.


Total Sightings:   13 sightings consisting of 37 individual animals plus 1 incidental sighting.


Common dolphins x 9 (3 sightings)


Harbour porpoise x 11 (4 sightings)


Unidentified small cetacean x 2 (2 sightings)


Grey seal x 9 (2 sightings)


Tuna sp. X 6 (2 sightings)


Bird Species Seen:Mute Swan, gannet, cormorant, shag, herring gull, great black-backed gull, lesser black-backed gull, black-headed gull, kittiwake, guillemot, razorbill, puffin, oystercatcher.

Survey team members

David Williams Leah Freshwater Neil Best

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2019-07-27 - Penzance-St Marys

Survey details

Survey route: Penzance-St Marys

Company: Isles of Scilly Travel

Sea region: Celtic Seas

Survey start date: 2019-07-27

Number of nights: Day sailing

Survey sightings

Cetacean sightings: N/A

Bird sightings: N/A

Other animals: N/A

Weather conditions: Overcast with a cool breeze, sea state mainly 3 with a moderate swell 1-2m


On Saturdays during the school holidays, the Scillonian III ferry makes two trips instead of the usual one. The survey team were booked to go on the early ferry and return on the late ferry meaning that we met up at 05:30 instead of the usual 08:15.


The team boarded the Scillonian III and took the opportunity for a short re-cap on survey protocols over coffee.


After the Scillonian had cleared Penzance Harbour we started to survey. The sky was overcast with showers clearly visible in the distance. Once we had cleared Land’s End the two metre swell set in and with the wind directly in our faces the weather seemed cold for the end of July.


The first half of the crossing was quiet with no sightings. Then 2 common dolphins were recorded racing in to the bow. This was followed by two more sightings of single common dolphin in fairly quick succession. Shortly after there was a sighting of a Minke whale as it surfaced once just 30 metres from the starboard bow. It was seen by one of the team and two of the ship’s crew but unfortunately not by the rest of the survey team. The only other sighting on the outward watch was an incidental sighting of 2 common dolphins, seen by the crew and the recorder, towards the stern of the ship.


As we approached the Isles of Scilly the clouds started to break and we disembarked in warm sunshine. Due to the double sailing we then had an extended stay of around seven hours so we decided to take this opportunity to explore one of the other islands and booked ourselves on one of the tripper boats to Tresco. We had plenty of time to explore the Tresco in the glorious weather and to sit and relax in the sun before returning to St Mary’s in time for a meal and a rest on the beach.


The Scillonian was a little late returning to St Mary’s but made a quick turnaround. Conditions for the return leg were great: it was mainly sunny with a following breeze and excellent visibility. The first sighting was of 5 common dolphins followed by one Ocean sunfish and then 3 more common dolphins. As we cruised along the Cornish coast, we were thinking that the Minke whale would be the best sighting of the trip when “Sighting” was called and a large animal was spotted at the surface. Fortunately, one of the survey team had just returned from Costa Rica where they had been working with a turtle charity and identified it straight away as a Leatherback turtle before it raised its head. There was just one more sighting of an unidentified small cetacean before we arrived at Penzance.


There were surprisingly few birds seen with only small numbers of the usual seabirds apart from one group of feeding Gannets.


Many thanks to Captain Peter and his crew for their assistance and for making us extremely welcome.


Total Sightings:   8 sightings consisting of 16 individual animals plus 1 incidental sighting.


Common Dolphins x 12 (5 sightings)


Minke Whale x 1


Ocean Sunfish x 1


Leatherback Turtle x 1


Unidentified Small Cetacean x 1


Bird Species Seen: 


Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Fulmar, Cormorant, Shag, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake, Sandwich Tern.

Survey team members

Dave Williams, Ian Boreham, Stephanie Lowder.

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2019-09-08 - Penzance-St Marys

Survey details

Survey route: Penzance-St Marys

Company: Isles of Scilly Travel

Sea region: Celtic Seas

Survey start date: 2019-09-08

Number of nights: Day sailing

Survey sightings

Cetacean sightings: N/A

Bird sightings: N/A

Other animals: N/A

Saturday 8th September 2019 Isles of Scilly


We had fantastic conditions for this trip, sea state 2 and a very light swell. We were all eager to get going and we weren’t disappointed. Within 15 minutes we had our first sighting. In the distance we saw splashing and birds diving and it soon became clear that we were on to DOLPHINS, a pod of 7 common dolphins were feeding on the starboard side. Shortly after seeing this pod, we realised we had more coming upon the port side and again on the starboard side, a further 16 animals. In five minutes, we had counted 23 animals!


As we entered the deeper waters of the Channel the sightings slowed down until we heard an excited commotion at the rear of the vessel where a Minke whale decided to surface, showing itself to the lucky guests at the back of the boat.


After chatting to the crew, we knew Risso’s dolphins had been seen in the area and with the beautiful islands approaching in the distance, we knew we still had time and a good chance of some great sightings. Shortly after 11am we had some large distant splashes; all we could see was 2 large grey bodies erupting vertically out of the water and splashing back down. Were these the Risso’s we’d been hoping for? Within 5 minutes this happened again but this time we had 3 big splashes!!! We looked and looked but unfortunately this was all we saw of these animals. Just before we reached the islands, we had the final sighting of our outbound journey, a small pod of dolphins.


 We had a lovely few hours on St Mary’s, looking at birds and enjoying our lunch. The afternoon flew by and before we knew it, it was time to get back on board.


 As we were leaving the islands behind, we passed by an outcrop of rocks, on these rocks were at least 15 Atlantic grey seals hauled out. It was amazing to see and I only wish I had a better camera to capture it!!! At the same time, we had our first sightings of harbour porpoise. Two near to the vessel and shortly after 7 more all swimming together, behaviour I had never seen before. After about an hour of no sightings we were finally graced with some more dolphins and shortly after, as we were passing the beautiful Tater du lighthouse, we had another small pod of harbour porpoise.


We all had a great day and were chuffed with all the sightings. As always, a big thank you to the crew and staff on the Scillonian for being so accommodating and helpful.


Bird List:


Black headed gull, great black backed gull, herring gull, kitttiwake, guillimot, manx shearwater, fulmer, sandwich tern, shag, gannet and Artic skuar.

Survey team members

Cheryl Yarham Tony Chenery Mike Smith

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