67 individual animals on Aberdeen-Lerwick survey!

14th Jun 2016

- Map of all the sightings from the recent NorthLink Ferries Aberdeen-Lerwick survey

Report from the 7th-9th June Aberdeen-Lerwick survey on board NorthLink Ferries MV Hrossey

We boarded the NorthLink MV Hrossey on Tuesday evening, with our hopes high as the forecast had predicted very calm conditions.  As we left Aberdeen, we could see nesting herring gulls with chicks on the roof of a warehouse and a goosander in the harbour.  Unfortunately, despite a perfect calm sea state 1, a thick bank of fog greeted us at the harbour entrance and this reduced our visibility to 200m.  We did however get wonderful views of our first puffins of the trip, as well as razorbills and guillemots resting on the water.  Ghostly gannets emerged through the fog and glided effortlessly across the bow of the ship and hundreds of lion’s mane jellyfish of all different sizes were easily seen in the calm water.

After about an hour, to our delight the fog cleared to reveal glassy calm conditions and this was when we had our first sighting of harbour porpoise.  We had continuous harbour porpoise and grey seal sightings for the next hour with a sighting called every 2 to 3 minutes! Everyone on the bridge got a great view of four harbour porpoise surfing on the slight swell.

A flock of gannets caught our attention on the starboard side and we watched them dive and dive again, creating quite a commotion in the water.  Keeping our eyes on this spot we were rewarded with a fantastic view of a minke whale surfacing twice! 

A disturbance in the water close to the ship alerted us of the presence of three common dolphins, including a calf.  We could clearly see their characteristic ‘figure-of-eight’ pattern on their flanks as they surfaced a handful of times before disappearing.  This is particularly exciting as common dolphins are considered rare in the North Sea.  We also sighted a dolphin very close to the bow which we could not identify because frustratingly it only surfaced once very briefly.

As light faded at about 10:30pm ending our first transect we had sighted an incredible 31 porpoises, 1 minke whale, 3 common dolphins, 8 grey seals, one unidentified seal and an unidentified dolphin. The bird highlight for our first transect was a short eared owl, which gracefully approached the ship on the port side. 

Waking up at 4am on Wednesday morning, we had good views of the Fair Isle and sighted one porpoise on the way into Lerwick in conditions of a sea state 3 to 4.  We had a fabulous day in Shetland exploring the islands of Bressay and Noss – we even got slightly sunburnt!!  We added many great bird species to our sightings list including ringed plover, common eider ducks with chicks and endemic subspecies of wren and starling.  Whilst having our picnic lunch on a Noss beach we sighted three common seals playing and porpoising numerous times in the water, making quite a splash.


- Zetlandicus subspecies of wren and starling endemic to Shetland 

Leaving Lerwick on a sunny evening, again we had fabulous views of Sumburgh Head and Fair Isle.  Although we all had our fingers crossed for orca (which had been sighted in the area just the day before), unfortunately we did not see any, and our only sighting of the evening was a single harbour porpoise. The most exciting part of this transect was watching a great skua stealing a gannet’s dinner! 

Another 4am start on Thursday greeted us with a fantastic sea state 1 and a light swell, which then calmed down to a superb sea state 0 – cetacean surveying heaven!  Watching the gannets gliding over the glassy mirror-like water with their reflections was just mesmerising.  Despite perfect conditions, it took us two hours to get any sightings – just before heading back into Aberdeen we had a flurry of activity with small pods of harbour porpoises sighted and finally two bottlenose dolphins along the outer harbour wall.  One of these individuals is known locally as Quasimodo, due to its deformed spine.

What a great survey – we recorded 67 animals in total!  A huge thank you to Captains Gary Watt and Stewart Pottinger and the rest of the crew for their kindness and hospitality and a big thank you to NorthLink Ferries for their continued support – we could not have been looked after any better.  We very much enjoyed our time on board and can’t wait for next time.

Marine Mammals:

Harbour porpoise X 48

Bottlenose dolphin X 2

Common dolphin X 3 (including a calf)

Minke whale X 1

Unidentified dolphin X 1

Small cetacean X 1

Grey seal X 8

Common seal X 1

Unidentified seals X 2

Other marine species:

Lion’s mane jellyfish

Birds at sea:

herring gull, black-headed gull, common gull, lesser black-backed gull, kittiwake, goosander, cormorant, guillemot, gannet, razorbill, Arctic tern, puffin, fulmar, Manx shearwater, short-eared owl, great skua, Arctic skua, shag, pomarine skua, European storm-petrel, great northern diver, great black-backed gull, black guillemot, common eider, Sandwich tern, red-throated diver, common tern

Birds on land in Shetland:

Common starling (zetlandicus subspecies endemic to Shetland), common eider (at least 2 broods of chicks seen), ringed plover, woodpigeon, skylark, house sparrow, great black-backed gull, common gull, fulmar, Arctic tern, wren (zetlandicus subspecies endemic to Shetland), Arctic skua, black-headed gull, oystercatcher, herring gull, hooded crow, meadow pipit, mallard, northern wheatear, blackbird, great skua, curlew. Lapwing, snipe, rock dove, greylag goose, redshank, dunlin, raven, red-breasted merganser, shag

Insects on land in Shetland:

Moss carder bee, garden bumblebee, large white (butterfly), diamond-back moth (there has been a large invasion of this species into the UK over the last two weeks)