Friday, 31 January 2014

Stena Europe Survey Report

On the 29th January 2014 four intrepid 'Sea Trust' surveyors gathered at the Ocean Lab at Goodwick to conduct the first Irish Sea survey of the year aboard the 'Stena Europe' ferry over to Ireland. We were briefed by the 'boss' Cliff Benson and then made our way to the terminal and onto the ferry where we settled into our cabins for the 2 day survey. We were eager to get out onto the bridge wings to get the survey underway before we sailed and as always the crew were very welcoming. We were all looking forward to getting out to sea again to 'blow the cobwebs' off in what has been a wet and very stormy winter.
On the outward leg during the afternoon we were blessed with a light easterly wind and a good sea state. On the voyage across we did get a couple of light rain squalls but that didn't deter us and we stuck it out on deck pretty well until the end. It was the fading light which brought the survey to an end before we had even reached the Tuskar rock and it's lovely lighthouse. However the setting sun in the background made a beautiful scene. On the voyage across we recorded 6 harbour porpoise and 4 common dolphins. The dolphins passed close to our bow of the ship and consisted of two mothers and their juvenile calves. Another unidentified small cetacean was recorded on the crossing as well.
We arrived at Rosslare then followed a brisk walk up to the cosy Harbour View Hotel to spend the next couple of hours before returning to the ship for an overnight crossing to Fishguard (and back to Rosslare) before resuming the survey the following morning.
The next morning we were back on the bridge wings at 9am all set up for the return leg to Fishguard. The conditions were slightly better than the previous day with a good sea state but we sailed into the face of a brisk chilly easterly breeze. We were all old hands though and knew the importance of wearing adequate clothing for the job in hand so we were well prepared for whatever nature could throw at us.
On this return leg we recorded a further 2 harbour porpoise and 2 groups of common dolphins numbering 2 and 6 respectively. About half way across the Irish Sea Dave Cunniffe spotted a fin and a large grey body just under the surface of the sea just ahead of the ship and we reckoned it was possibly a Minke whale. Just before sailing into Fishguard harbour a medium sized 'dolphin' species was spotted in the distance close to shore between the small bay at Pwllgwaelod and the harbour entrance. The dorsal fin was 'falcate', the animal partially 'breached' with its belly towards the ship and it 'fluked' (went down tail up) and was not seen again. It was assumed at the time that this may have been a solitary bottlenose dolphin but after much debate back at the lab and further analysis it was recorded as a 'possible' Risso's dolphin as 2 animals of this species had been seen in the same locality of our sighting at around the same time by fishermen returning to the harbour. Risso's are probably more commonly seen in this area than the bottlenoses although of course they too occur regularly in Cardigan Bay during the summer months literally up the coast, or 'round the corner' as it were, of Dinas Head and sometimes turn up near the Fishguard harbour area or surrounding sea.

On both legs of the crossing we recorded some excellent birdlife. We saw many common guillemots, fulmars, kittiwakes, the other commoner gull species, just a few gannets, several red-throated divers and 2 great northern divers in Fishguard harbour. Also shags, cormorants, 1 great skua (bonxie), and small flocks of common scoters.

So overall not a bad list of cetacean and bird species for the month of January!

'Sea Trust' and the surveying team wish to extend our thanks to Captain Colm Clare and the crew of the 'Stena Europe' for their warm welcome and allowing us on the bridge and bridge wings of the ferry to conduct our survey.

Survey team members were - Dave Cunniffe, Christopher Wallbank, Shenaz Khimji, Elfyn Pugh.