Think there’s nothing in the English Channel? Think again – part 2!

Whale & dolphin sightings


A week on from the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry survey of the 17th May, hopes were high among the team of four ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyors as they boarded the Brittany Ferries’ Mont St Michel bright and early on the 24th May to survey the English Channel. We knew that, generally speaking, the survey route from Portsmouth to Caen wasn’t known for producing a large number of sightings. Indeed, Julia, Neil and I had surveyed separately on this route before and had seen very little – in Julia’s case, nothing at all. Although we all know that no sightings on a survey is still really important data, telling us about the distribution and movements of whales and dolphins, we couldn’t help but hope we might be as lucky as the team on the Newhaven–Dieppe route exactly a week before, who recorded 17 sightings of 39 individual animals.

The weather in the channel was amazingly calm – a sea state 1-2, with no white water, so our chances looked good. We introduced ourselves to the friendly crew and set up our survey equipment up on the bridge. Within 15 minutes we had our first sighting – a harbour porpoise swimming across in front of the ship. This was followed shortly by another, and another about an hour later. It was a great start, particularly for Rachel, who was taking part in her first ORCA survey. An hour of calm followed before Rachel spotted a pod of two bottlenose dolphins swimming by the ship, and 10 minutes on I spotted another harbour porpoise, followed a bit later by a fleeting glimpse of an unidentified dolphin.

The captain kindly allowed us to stay on the bridge on approach to the port in Caen. He noted that it was at that point that he regularly saw dolphins and, true to his word, just as I was about to call an end to the survey a pod of bottlenose dolphins appeared! There were over 10 animals sighted, and they may well have come to bow-ride but unfortunately at that point we did need to leave the bridge. The captain was delighted that his prediction had been fulfilled!

So that made for over 17 animals spotted on the outward leg to Caen, at fairly regular intervals. We were hopeful of some more sightings on the return leg, as the sea remained super calm with no white caps, and visibility remained superb, despite a bit of glare. We weren’t disappointed, once again we had fairly regular sightings of harbour porpoise, with some unidentified dolphins too. We were also lucky enough to have two separate sightings of common dolphins, again a treat for all four of us.

What a trip! With 16 sightings in total, of 39 individual animals (nine harbour porpoise, 15 bottlenose dolphins, six common dolphins and nine unidentified dolphins) – we can’t stress it enough – if you think there’s nothing to see in the English Channel, think again!

By Hannah Parkinson, Team Leader.

The ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyor team after a successful day of surveying. L-R: Julia, Neil, Hannah & Rachel.

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