Scillonian III ORCA Survey Report - 20 October 2018.
Route: Penzance - Isles of Scilly
Weather conditions: Sunny with light winds, sea state 2, swell light to moderate.
This survey, originally scheduled for two weeks earlier, was rescheduled after the Scillonian did not sail due to poor weather conditions. How different the rescheduled day turned out. The team assembled having all independently seen the most magnificent sun rise over Goonhilly Downs on the Lizard peninsula. By the time we started to survey there was barely a cloud in the sky, the sea state was Beaufort 2 with no swell as we crossed Mounts Bay.
The first sighting turned out to be a double. The surveyor spotted what appeared to be a seal. Looking through binoculars the seal was confirmed, then an unidentified dolphin appeared in the same line of sight. Soon after a large splash appeared ahead. It did not look like a cetacean splash and was very likely to be a Bluefin Tuna, a species that had been seen recently in the same area.
After passing Land’s End, a gently rolling swell built up varying from one to two metres. Conditions for surveying were excellent in the warm sunshine, the only drawback being the glare from the low autumn sun. There where no more sightings for about an hour, followed by a golden half-hour. Firstly, the one that got a way: a Minke whale was seen clearly by one of the surveyors as well as a number of passengers, unfortunately it was out of the survey area so it became an incidental sighting. Then we saw six Harbour Porpoises, two groups of Common Dolphins (10 and 3) and three unidentified dolphins. The first pod of Common Dolphins rushed in towards the bow of the Scillonian and then slipped back to ride the wake.
There were no more sightings before we arrived at St Mary’s. With the movement towards shorter days the Scillonian was scheduled to leave 45 minutes earlier than usual. This still left time for lunch in the sunshine watching people swimming in the sea and sunbathing on the beach (yes it was nearly the end of October!), followed by a short walk to see the magnificent views of the islands.
The return journey was quiet with only one sighting of a Grey Seal, until we were within sight of Penzance harbour when one surveyor and the Scillonian’s officers saw three large tuna breaching. They were estimated to be larger than two metres in length. With no more sightings the survey ended, still in the bright sunshine that we had enjoyed all day.
The survey team disembarked having had a very enjoyable day. Many thanks to Captain Dave Redman and his crew for their assistance and for making us extremely welcome.
Total sightings: 9 sightings consisting of 28 individual animals plus two incidental sightings of two animals.
Common Dolphin x 13 (2 sightings)
Harbour Porpoise x 6 (1 sighting)
Grey Seal x 2 (2 sightings)
Unidentified dolphin x 4 (2 sightings)
Tuna Sp. x 3 (2 sightings)
Minke Whale x 1
Bird species seen: Great Shearwater, Gannet, Cormorant, Shag, Pomarine Skua, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Kittiwake, Razorbill
David Williams, Jo Grimes, Lou Hoskin