On Tuesday 27th May, bright and early at 05:00, we embarked on our first survey of the year aboard the Isle of Man Steam-Packet Company’s Manannan. The sea was a very calm sea state 1 as we departed Douglas in the misty early morning sunlight and headed north, hugging the beautiful Manx coastline. Gannets, Guillemots and Fulmars cruised past us as we sailed towards Belfast; one Guillemot even seemed to be flying faster than us! Not long after leaving the Isle of Man behind us, the Mull of Galloway appeared out of the mist on the Starboard side; it is amazing just how close we were to it. The sea was still perfectly calm and we were surprised that no cetaceans had yet been spotted. Our first sighting was of a single Harbour porpoise just before we reached Belfast Lough, it was displaying typical foraging behaviour and travelling in variable directions. Our following two sightings occurred shortly afterwards; another Harbour porpoise also foraging just before we reached Belfast, and a third porpoise travelling up the Lough. We reached our destination at 07:48 and had a well deserved sleep and very early lunch!
Our return trip was very busy; the ship was teaming with people travelling to the Isle of Man for the TT. The conditions at sea remained perfect and we were joined on deck by lots of very enthusiastic passengers. Our next 3 sightings were again in Belfast Lough; of 3 separate Harbour porpoises. We then saw a further 3 porpoises between Ireland and the Isle of Man and a couple of passengers were on deck with us at the time and saw them. Our last but most exciting sighting came as a surprise to us all; I noticed a very odd looking area of white water in the middle of an otherwise calm sea. Something was causing a disturbance, my heart leaped instantly as I knew it was something exciting. I looked through my binoculars and sure enough, there were dolphins! In fact they were Risso’s dolphins (my favourite)! Some very lucky passengers were out with us and were able to see them too, which was fantastic. This is the first Dolphin sighting we have had from Manannan, and not only that, but it was in Manx waters just 1km off the Point of Ayre. For the remainder of the trip we were joined on deck by at least 30 bikers oozing with excitement as we sailed close to the coast and made our way back into Douglas.
Overall we spotted a grand total of 11 cetaceans: 9 Harbour porpoises and 2 Risso’s dolphins. Not bad at all for our first trip early in the season. I have just been looking through our data and discovered that last year over the 5 return trips we did to Ireland, we had a total of 55 sightings! These were mainly of Harbour porpoise, but also included Minke whales and a Basking Shark. This year we are planning to do many more trips and will be out surveying whenever the sea is calm enough.
As always, we would like to say a huge thank you to the Isle of Man Steam-Packet Company for allowing us to carry out these important surveys, and for the crew onboard for being so welcoming.
Thank you from the team: Jen Adams, Emmeline Grey and Claire Robertson.
Check out the Isle of Man Steam-Packet Company’s website