Dolphin in the solent

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Condor Ferries supports MARINElife, a Dorset based charity that conducts surveys and records sightings of marine and bird life to aid conservation. This summer, we joined Peter Howlett, a Research Surveyor for MARINElife, on board his trip to Jersey. Below, he writes about his survey from Portsmouth to Jersey…

Portsmouth - Jersey (June 2016)

We departed from Portsmouth on board the Commodore Goodwill and, after what seemed like a very short time, arrived in St Peter Port, Guernsey, in the early hours of the morning. With it being mid-June, it was light enough to begin the survey shortly after departing St Peter Port at 04:45. Leaving the port, there was a steady trickle of Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull and occasional Gannet.


However, the reward for the early start came at 05:35 when we were just 15 minutes from St Helier, the capital of Jersey. Three Bottlenose Dolphin appeared a few hundred metres ahead of the ship and rapidly disappeared out of sight under the bow; a brief but very welcome sight. The officers on board tell me they see dolphins near St Helier on a regular basis.

The ship spends two hours docked in St Helier. In between photographing gulls drifting past I glimpsed a dorsal fin breaking the surface about 500m away near an outer breakwater. Surely the Bottlenose Dolphin could not be in that close? They were indeed and there were two of them! 


Over the course of the next 10 minutes or so they gradually worked their way in towards the harbour entrance and at one point were in the harbour ahead of the ship. After that they drifted further out and I eventually lost sight of them as they headed off back out to sea. 


I returned to the bridge in time for departure and recommenced the survey. Captain Pielich told me that the route back would take us around the east side of Jersey and closer in to the French coast. The shallower waters of the Bay of St Malo can be home to many Balearic Shearwater in the summer months. Unfortunately, June is just too early for them as it turned out to be quiet with no shearwaters. 


As we passed close to the mass of rocky islets that make up the Écréhous (a group of islands and rocks off the northeast corner of Jersey), there were a few Shag and Cormorant birds flying to and from the reef, as well as the usual flurry of Gannet - as birds from the Alderney colonies fly up to the northeast of Cap de la Hague to feed. A scattered group of 10 Manx Shearwater added momentary interest. 


Virtually mid-channel a Chiffchaff made an appearance on the rail, less than a metre away from me. I barely had time to register the bird before it flitted away and down towards the foredeck and out of sight. Half an hour later it suddenly appeared again on the bridge wing outside and I managed to take a few photos. When a bird weighing in at a mere 10-11g suddenly pitches up on some ship miles from anywhere it really does emphasise the perilous nature of the journey they make between West Africa and northern Europe. 


As we closed in on the Isle of Wight bird sightings increased ever so slightly with a few Gannet and auks, looking a bit faded and bleached after spending the winter in southern Biscay or off the coast of west Africa.


Overall, a very enjoyable survey enlivened by the Bottlenose Dolphin and the ringed Chiffchaff! Many thanks to Captain Pielich and the crew of the Commodore Goodwill for the friendly welcome and to Condor Ferries for supporting the work of MARINElife.