During 2016 Sea Watch have had the opportunity to join in with CEFAS surveys on board the Endeavour at various locations around the UK. Using trusted and qualified volunteers, we were able to collect data on six surveys spanning seven to twenty-nine days each. We’d like to thank CEFAS for this valuable opportunity and also our amazing volunteers who found the time in their busy lives to help us collect vital data on the UK’s cetaceans.
I met the CEFAS Endeavour at Douglas in the Isle of Man. I arrived onboard after having completed a minor work out scaling the gangway as it was at an angle of approximately 45 degrees from the quayside to the top deck. Shame it was a dry ship, I could have done with a stiff drink after that little expedition!! I then had to retrace my steps with my new made chums to dine out on pizza. Thankfully on our return the tide was going out so the gangway was not so steep! I made my way to my cabin, after making a few wrong turns and settled down for a good night’s sleep.
Overnight we made our way to our first station. By the time I was having breakfast, the scientists had already completed one trawl and we were on our way to the second of five for that day. We zigzagged our way across the Irish Sea south of the Isle of Man east to west to the station points. It was a calm day to start with, having good visibility and low swell. As the day progressed the sea state became a little more exuberant and energetic. We were heading for some colourful weather over the next 24hours and so the decision was made to cross to Anglesey and shelter on the north east side of the island until the bad weather had passed. So that meant the following day Saturday would be a day of rest. I did however pop up to the bridge throughout the day keeping an eye out for anything that might pass us in the bay – ever hopeful. Sadly I didn’t see anything, so back down for another round of exploding kittens!!
Sunday saw us heading out again crossing the Irish Sea to where we had completed the last trawl. From here we headed south in the middle of the sea. We were still experiencing the tail end of the bad weather so life on board was a little bumpy, but as the day progressed and we moved further south the sea began to calm. Sadly this was not the day that I would see my first cetacean of the trip. Well, there was always the next day.
Technically speaking it was the next day, but at approximately 3am I had a call to my cabin that we had dolphins around the vessel and had had for about an hour. So bleary eyed but very excited I rushed up to the bridge, thankful they did not have a dress code as I was still in my PJ’s! It was a dark night with very little moon light so it was difficult to spot dolphins, but when I did it was like watching ghosts move through the waters. The bioluminescence of the breaking waves and the fast moving phantoms through the sea was quite an experience. Due to their behaviour, shape and slight colouring that was only just visible I guestimated that they were common dolphins. It was only a small pod of about 5 swimming towards the boat and bow riding. I managed to stay awake for about half an hour then pottered back to bed.
Monday we moved north again but were close to the Irish coastline – land was in sight! We were up by Dundrum Bay where I had been told on previous surveys that they always saw a minke whale here. Additionally the SIC informed me that if I didn’t spot a minke up here then I wasn’t a marine mammal spotter!! So, no pressure then! I kept my eyes peeled right from the start, trying to have them everywhere all at the same time, determined to prove myself! Thankfully I was not to be a disappointment or to be disappointed, a minke was in sight!! I first saw a collection of feeding sea birds, gannets diving, gulls circling over head and feeding on the water. And there in the midst of them was the hump and small dorsal fin of a minke whale!! It moved slowly back and forth for approximately 10 minutes feeding on whatever the birds were dining out on too. Needless to say I informed the SIC of my sighting!! Thankfully the minke hung around long enough for him to spot it too. For the rest of the day the weather conditions were great for spotting, calm flat waters with great visibility. I was able to spot numerous harbour porpoise going about their daily lives, feeding, foraging and swimming in the distance.
The next day we had poor weather to start off the day, but as we progressed through the morning the weather cleared and a beautiful sunny afternoon was had. There was a glorious sunset and sky-scape over Ireland when we anchored off the coast as the day came to an end. Sadly it was not a day for cetaceans but the beauty of the natural land/seascape could still be appreciated.
So, the last morning at sea…. A glorious day greeted me when I got to the bridge. Perfect spotting conditions, bright skies, calm seas, great visibility; all I needed was some cetaceans….. The keen eye of the SIC spotted the first dolphins of the day! 3 Bottlenose dolphins were heading towards the boat, a very brief glimpse. I had one more, brief, sighting of a dorsal fin that day, but sadly it was a quiet day for my last day of spotting.
Text and photos by Suzie Miller, Sea Watch Foundation Regional Coordinator for Cumbria.
To hear more of Suzie’s adventures at sea visit: www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/sea-watch-survey-on-board-the-cefas-endeavour-aug-2016/
You can also read about another of our volunteer’s experiences on board here: www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/conserving-cetaceans/