Penzance-St Marys (Isles of Scilly)

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

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.

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

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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2019-09-15 - Penzance-St Marys

Survey details

Survey route: Penzance-St Marys

Company: Isles of Scilly Travel

Sea region: Celtic Seas

Survey start date: 2019-09-15

Number of nights: Day sailing


The Team met in Penzance early and boarded Scillonian III. This was, unusually, a Sunday, and consequently the ferry was quite quiet, being end of season and no longer school holidays and also not a regular changeover day for holidaymakers. This left us plenty of time for a coffee and a chat before heading up to the Bridge where we were greeted by Captain Pete and his crew.

Conditions were good both for visibility and sea state and we felt hopeful for lots of exciting sightings, however the first 45 minutes passed without any, but gave us time to practice our surveying skills and settle in.   We then had our first sighting of 3 common dolphins, followed a few minutes later by a splash – was it a dolphin? No, we thought it more likely a large tuna, followed just a couple of minutes later by a gathering of gannets feeding directly in front of us but at some distance. We watched in anticipation as we came closer and sure enough, there were dolphins feeding amongst them and off to the side, more dolphins swimming to join the frenzy. Apparently lots of fish about! The remainder of the outward journey produced a group of 3 more common dolphins and another probable tuna fish.

We spent a pleasant but chilly few hours ashore. 

Our return journey was quieter. Conditions were still good and we mostly recorded a sea state of 2, just touching 3 for a short while on our return. Visibility was also good, although there was a haze hanging over Cornwall as we approached Land’s End and fairly heavy cloud made it seem rather gloomy for the last hour or so.

We left St Marys by the shorter route past the Eastern Isles and as ever we were on the lookout for the seals that are often spotted there.Just one seen in the water on this occasion!

The rest of the journey produced just an incidental sighting of a possible pair of common dolphins spotted by a passenger, and a couple more splashy breaching tuna – it was certainly the day of the tuna fish!   As we approached Penzance an enormous barrel jellyfish was spotted – then another, and in the end there were four or five individuals to round off our trip.

We would like to thank Captain Pete and his enthusiastic crew for allowing us on their bridge and making us so welcome.  


5 x Common Dolphin (24 animals, including 1 incidental sighting of 2 dolphins)

1 x Grey Seal (1 animal)

4 x Tuna fish

5 Barrel Jellyfish

Birds spotted at sea and on Scilly:

Gannet, great black backed gull, herring gull, manx shearwater, guillemot, black headed gull, shag, fulmar, oystercatcher, house sparrow, starling and swallow

Survey team members

Jackie Shaw, Maggie Gamble, Jillie Dale

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