The Marine Mammal Surveyors met at Portsmouth Ferry Terminal early in the morning of Friday 3rd August, enthusiastic to commence the return day-survey from Portsmouth to Caen. For two surveyors, it was their first ever survey, which was especially exciting! The weather forecast was looking very favourable, with clear blue skies and light winds. We spent a bit of time before boarding discussing and recapping on survey techniques, so everyone felt confident and prepared.
We boarded the Mont St Michel and were soon invited up to the bridge to begin our first transect survey of the day. We were greeted by the crew, set up our survey equipment and got started. The sea was incredibly calm, the visibility great and there was very little glare; ideal survey conditions! Everyone got stuck into their roles, and about 40 minutes into the survey we had our first sighting – harbour porpoises! One of our new surveyors spotted a pod of 5 swimming across the front of the bow. A couple more harbour porpoise sightings followed within the next 10 minutes, both being of individual animals. Great start to the survey!
Over the next few hours the sea state remained amazingly calm and we steadily continued to record sightings. We saw 5 more harbour porpoises, with one pod containing 3 animals and the other 2 sightings consisting of individuals. We also saw 2 unidentified dolphins on 2 separate occasions, with one surfacing very close to the ferry. All the surveyors had sightings, which meant everyone gained some practice and experience with the data recording, as well as feeling the joy of seeing cetaceans! The crew of the Mont St Michel also spotted cetaceans and joined us in identifying them, which was very enjoyable. Sea birds were also in abundance during the transect; predominantly gannets, but also a sighting of a great skua near the coast of France.
As we approached Caen, the conditions deteriorated slightly, with the sea becoming choppier. Once in Port, we disembarked and had a pleasant lunch in the terminal café during the quick turn-around.
Shortly after we were back on-board and had resumed our survey up on the bridge for the return transect to Portsmouth. The sea state had continued to worsen during the lunch-break, so we were now faced with reasonably rough conditions, with plenty of white caps present. We did however continue to spot interesting birdlife, including fulmar and manx shearwater. As we progressed towards Portsmouth, the sea state calmed, and we were once again enjoying wonderfully calm conditions not witnessed before in the English Channel by the surveyors. After a few hours of quiet surveying, we had our first sighting of the transect – dolphins in the distance! They were too far away for us to identify the species, but we estimated that there were 12 individuals in the pod. We then had two more sightings during the following 5 minutes – 2 pods of 2 harbour porpoises! A great end to the survey as well!
As we neared Portsmouth, the sea became slightly rougher and the light conditions diminished quickly, so we decided to come off survey. We thanked the crew and said goodbye before descending back to main area of the ship. We had a survey debrief, and everyone appeared happy and enthused by the day. It was a very successful survey, both in terms of sightings and surveyor experience. Thank you, team, for all your hard-work and enthusiasm, it was a fun and beneficial trip.
Thank you very much to the Captain and crew of the Mont St Michel for your hospitality and interest in our work, and to Brittany Ferries for making this survey possible – it is greatly appreciated.
Total Cetacean Sightings:
Harbour porpoise – 8 sightings – 16 individuals
Unidentified dolphin – 3 sightings – 14 individuals
Becci Owen, Andy Osborn, Mark Litjens, Tim Dempster