A team of four ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyors met at Portsmouth Ferry Terminal early on the 27th of April. Everyone was ready to cross the English Channel to Caen, with one of our surveyors taking part in an ORCA survey for the first time. The forecast was for 40 mph winds and rain, so we were expecting some challenging conditions. Thankfully, it wasn't as bad as forecast.
Once onboard the Mont St Michel, we gathered in the cafe and had a training session where the surveyors learnt how to use Logger, a software package loaded onto a touch-screen tablet, which is being trialled on this route. Once we were out of the Solent, we headed up to the bridge, met the crew, and started surveying.
The first leg of the journey was quiet for cetaceans, with no sightings. There were plenty of birds to keep us company however, including many gannets, Manx shearwaters, swallows, a juvenile kittiwake, razorbills, and a variety of gull species. The Channel was a lot calmer than anticipated, with sea states ranging from a beaufort of 3 to 4, and minimal swell. There was plenty of rain to limit the visibility however.
The bridge crew were very welcoming, and the captain allowed us to stay on the bridge as they came alongside in Caen. In last months' survey, there were reports of dolphins close to the terminal; however none were seen this time.
On our return journey, the sun came out, and sea states occasionally reduced to a 2. This facilitated the only sighting of the day, which was a harbour porpoise less than half an hour after leaving Caen. Again, we were kept occupied with surveyors identifying bird species which included a good number of gannets diving to catch fish, including one we saw eating its catch, an eider and great crested grebes, fulmars, trunstones, oyster catchers, wagtails, coromorants, common scoters, herring gull, greater and lesser black-backed, yellow-legged and black-headed gulls.
As we neared Portsmouth, fog started to appear and the light faded, so we decided to stop surveying, said goodbye and thank you to the lovely crew, and descended to a cafe for dinner and a debrief. Everyone was enthusiastic despite only seeing a single cetacean, and everyone seemed to be a fan of using Logger as opposed to the classic paper datasheets.
Thank you to Brittany Ferries and the crew of the Mont St Michel for welcoming us onboard, and to the dedicated survey team that stayed vigilant for the appearance of cetaceans.
James Robbins, Andrew Crowder, Stephen Hedley, Neil Musgrave