The weather forecast for our survey across the English Channel on the Mont St Michel to the Port of Caen was looking to be favourable, so we decided to meet at the Portsmouth International Ferry Terminal in plenty of time to collect our tickets and board the ship.
Once onboard, we were given a very warm welcome by the Guest Information team who advised that they would contact the bridge to organise access for us. They are always so friendly and helpful and whilst we waited we enjoyed a delicious breakfast in Le Café du Festival and discussed the protocol and the use of logger.
With a blast of the horn, the Mont St Michel left her berth and began making her way to the harbour mouth, passing the massive HMS Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier that was moored next to the historic dockyard. The ship continued her journey and made her way out into the Solent and it was at this point that we were invited to go to the bridge. We were escorted by one of the crew and as we walked she talked excitedly about how she had just seen her first whale in the Bay of Biscay and how she had found it an amazing experience!
The bridge crew were very welcoming, and we quickly began our survey in a sea state 3, scattered clouds, sunshine and excellent visibility. As we moved further into the channel, we observed gannet, kittiwake, mixed groups of rafting gulls and the occasional fulmar skimming the surface. We settled into our survey and chatted about how perfect the conditions were for spotting cetaceans as the weather was amazing and we waited in anticipation for our first sighting. This came as we approached the French coastline near Caen, two bottlenose dolphins surfacing a few times on the portside and then disappearing down the side of the ship. Even though it was a brief encounter it was wonderful to see.
We disembarked and headed to the terminal café to indulge in a delicious lunch and then headed back to the ship for our return journey to Portsmouth with high hopes of further sightings. Little did we know that we would be in for an absolute treat during our second watch! As the ship departed Caen and headed back into the channel, we restarted our survey in near perfect conditions and as we travelled further away from the French coastline the sea stated decreased from 3 to 1. It truly was a beautiful evening with the sun glistening on a sea state 1 whilst the Brittany Ferries vessel Normandie passed by on the port side creating a picture-perfect scene.
The second sighting of the day was of an unidentified dolphin that surfaced ahead of the ship on the port side which could be seen briefly below the surface as it swam towards the bow and then disappeared with a small splash. The third sighting was of an adult and juvenile harbour porpoise rolling at the surface ahead of the ship with their tiny triangular fin clearly visible. They rolled a few times and slipped beneath the surface as the ship passed by. Just as we thought the evening couldn’t get any better, the next sighting will stay with the team for a very long time!
With perfect conditions, excellent visibility and a continuing sea state 1 we spotted a splash near the horizon, then another, and then another until we could see a large group of common dolphin leaping and heading straight towards the ship! The dolphins were quite spread out with some heading straight for the bow, clearly visible underneath the calm sea. After a quick bow ride, the dolphins regrouped and headed down the side of the ship towards the wake, calves clearly visible nestled against their mother’s side as they leapt across the waves. We watched them for several minutes as they enjoyed playing in the wake, the sun glistening off their bodies until they disappeared out of view. Just the most breath-taking sight with the team left a little speechless!
The final sighting of the day was a solitary bottlenose dolphin on the starboard side as we neared the Isle of Wight coastline, splashing and travelling at speed ahead of a large cruise ship that was making its way out to sea. With Portsmouth visible in the distance and fading light, we decided to end the survey on what had been a truly wonderful and memorable crossing. We thanked Captain Grimault and his bridge crew for their hospitality and left feeling elated from an amazing day at sea.
We would like to say a massive thank you to Captain Grimault and the crew of the Mont St Michel for making us feel so welcome and for their hospitality, and to Brittany Ferries for their continued support of ORCA.
Marine Mammals Seen:
Bottlenose Dolphin x 3
Common Dolphin x 50
Harbour Porpoise x 2
Unidentified Dolphin x 1
Cormorants, fulmar, gannet, great skua, gull sp and kittiwake.
Emma Howe-Andrews (Team Leader), Sarah Barr, Karen Barr