Amazing Four Species Steam-Packet Survey
On Friday the 11th of July we carried out a Whale, Dolphin, Porpoise and Basking Shark survey aboard the Isle of Man Steam-Packet Company’s Manannan on the route to Belfast. It was a lovely day and the sea was really calm, which made it perfect conditions for surveying. The outbound trip was amazing for marine mammal sightings, with a total of three different species spotted before even leaving Manx waters. We started the survey at 6:45am and incredibly the first sighting was only three minutes into the survey, it was of a mature Risso’s dolphin just off Marine Drive. It was very close inshore and was easily visible from the ferry, a few people on the top deck also managed to get a glimpse of the dolphin’s dorsal fin slowly surfacing a further two times. Not long after the first sighting, when the boat was about eight kilometres off Langness, an animal was spotted leaving the water and plunging back in again. This happened twice and it was difficult to identify until the third appearance when it cleared the water and you could clearly see the distinctive markings of a Short Beaked Common Dolphin. It was amazing to get such a close sighting and many of the passengers saw it from the side windows. Before leaving Manx waters, there was a further sighting of an adult Minke whale and a suspected juvenile, which were eight kilometres North of the Calf of Man. After heading out of Manx waters towards Belfast the sea was still teaming with life and a further fourteen sightings of Harbour porpoise were recorded. The Ferry was filled with motorbike enthusiasts making their way home after watching the Southern 100 races. We had so much interest in the work we were doing and many passengers were lucky enough to spot marine mammals with us. For many, it was their first ever sighting, so hopefully they will go home with very fond memories of their trip aboard Manannan.
After having our lunch and a much needed cup of tea, kindly supplied by the ferry staff, we returned to our positions out on deck at 11.25am to carry out the survey on the return trip. This survey was not quite as successful, with only three sightings of porpoise throughout the period. This was a strange contrast to the volume of sightings seen throughout the whole first survey, giving a good example of how unpredictable marine mammals can be. However we still had lots of interest from the public and it was really rewarding to pass on our knowledge of marine mammals in Manx waters.
As always thank you to the Isle of Man Steam-packet company for allowing us to conduct our survey and to all the on board crew (especially for the tea). It was a very successful day and we can’t wait for the next ferry survey.
Rosalie Sampson and Bryony Manley