Survey Reports

2018-08-11 - Penzance-St Marys

Survey details

Survey route: Penzance-St Marys

Company: Isles of Scilly Travel

Sea region: Celtic Seas

Survey start date: 2018-08-11

Number of nights: Day sailing

species common dolphin 03
^ A library image of a common dolphin

We managed to get a bit lucky with the weather, as a long range forecast for good weather deteriorated close to the date to two days of rougher, dreary conditions. Our survey day sandwiched in between them was forecast for patchy drizzle with some swell with choppy seas. Throwing caution to the wind, we decided to press ahead...  And it paid off big time!

Arriving at Penzance the visibility wasn't encouraging as a persistent, distant fog obscured the horizon and a grey overcast sky threatened some rain. Half an hour into the survey the drizzle arrived - which was actually a good thing because it cleared out the fog for a while and we could see the horizon for about an hour. Thank goodness it did, otherwise we might have missed the Minke whale that breached fully out of the water some distance away. Twice! Luckily everyone including the bridge crew just happened to be looking toward the right place at the right time to see it, a real jaw dropping moment as there was no warning amongst the moderate swell and whitecaps that there was anything even out there. Even the Captain, who has been sailing this route for over twenty years, had only seen this once before. Wow! Soon after this we came across a large mixed flock of seabirds, mostly juvenile gannets, rafting on the surface not far from where the whale had been - perhaps there had been some feeding event happening before we arrived?

After the drizzle stopped, the fog crept back in, putting visibility back down to about 7km as we approached Scilly. Seabirds had been plentiful throughout the first leg of the survey, particularly juvenile gannets (more than I've ever seen on a survey on this route), so there was a lot to look out for. A pair of common dolphins skipped past through the waves close by as the murky outlines of the islands hovered into view too. After a brief cafe stop in St Mary's for lunch, it was straight back on board for the second leg back to Penzance, and although we were going with the swell, it had picked up a bit into the afternoon, peaking at sea state 6 for a brief time off Land's End. However we didn't have time to concern ourselves with holding on as there was plenty to see!

Coming around St Mary's past the Eastern Isles, a couple of grey seals were seen in quick succession sheltering close in. Just off the islands we once again encountered a pair of common dolphins - no, two pairs - as the ferry was approached from different sides and quite different distances by the animals, the latter pair of which came in to bowride as the other pair vanished. A couple of minutes later yet another pair crossed our path and also came to bowride too.  A group of four commons then popped up half an hour later, followed by another three another half hour on from that, not far off Land's End.

Approaching the mainland coast, sea conditions did start to settle down somewhat. However the distant fog was now closing in noticeably, bringing first drizzle, and then a proper light rain for the final hour of the survey that gradually eroded our visibility down to about 4km by the time we docked back in Penzance. The dolphin action continued all the way back in as a lone common dolphin bounced flashed by followed soon after by a pod of seven that were just departing a flock of diving gannets ahead of us near Lamorna. Finally, coming upon Mousehole, our last sighting of the survey was yet another pod of common dolphins travelling slowly into Mount's Bay.

Although the forecast was a bit risky on this occasion, it was definitely well worth it for the reward. It was quite exciting to see animals out in somewhat rougher conditions than usual as well, which made each sighting that little bit more special as we had to work hard to spot them and keep balance on a bouncing platform at the same time!  Thanks to Owen and Sarah who had a very interesting first survey(!) and coped really well with everything that was going on. And thanks as always of course the the Captain and crew of the Scillonian for their hospitality.

Surveyors: Dan Jarvis (TL), Owen Exeter, Sarah Sharpe.

Sightings: 12 total, 31 animals

Minke whale (1 sighting, 1 animal)

Common dolphin (9 sightings, 28 animals)

Grey seal (2 sightings, 2 animals)

Survey team members

Dan Jarvis (TL), Owen Exeter, Sarah Sharpe