Final Harwich-Esbjerg survey finds many Porpoises and Seals

29th Sep 2014

Report on the penultimate survey from Harwich to Denamark on board DFDS Sirena Seaways with surveyors Mike Williams (Team Leader), Kath Neri, Tiffany Rogerson and Scott Reid.

Summary of Sightings

Species Number Sighted
Harbour Porpoise 8
Grey Seals many adorning the sandbanks of Esbjerg including pups

We all met up in port and embarked. After watching Harwich slip away from our vantage point on deck we assembled ourselves and equipment and then headed to the bridge for a quick survey before the sun sank into the horizon. We met the very friendly bridge crew and settled in with Scott and Tiffany on lookout. Following a change in observers the light faded so rather than risking our eyesight we called it a night and headed down for a brief refreshment break and a good night’s sleep.

Alarm clocks beeped very early on Thursday morning beckoning us and the sun to rise. An enthusiastic, if not a little lethargic, survey team went to the bridge. The seas were calm with a gentle swell, but the cetaceans and other marine life also seemed lethargic as we had only a few seabirds for company, such as Black-headed and Great Black-backed Gulls. We dodged the many structures of the energy industry which scatter the North Sea and eventually saw our first cetaceans. Two Harbour Porpoises had made a brief appearance at the bow and were spotted by a keen Tiffany. About an hour from the Danish coast it was Kath’s turn as another Porpoise leapt out on the port side in front of the bow. With Denmark and the Four White Men (a rather impressive collection of coastal statues) of Esjberg gleaming in the sun ahead Tiffany sighted another marine mammal. A cute Grey Seal pup, with a very large head, was peering up looking a little iterated at the large ship getting in its way. As we packed away our gear more Grey Seals slumped on the sandbars opposite Fano Island with Oystercatchers and Redshanks for company.

We explored the city of Esjberg, the 5th biggest in Denmark, and wandered north along the coast to a beach at the feet of the White Men. Here we watched Sandpipers running along the sand and gulls fluttering in the sky above. After a short pit stop in the supermarket we returned to Sirena Seaways ready to depart.

The sea was almost perfect with only a gentle ripple disturbing the ocean. However we were racing the sun which was already low in the red evening sky. The sun nearly won but a single distance Harbour Porpoise swam into view in the distance before darkness consumed the horizon.

We woke in Dutch waters dotted with Fulmars resting on the North Sea’s calm surface. The swell had picked up during the night, but conditions remained good and we didn’t have to wait long before two Porpoises were spotted in rapid succession. As East Anglia came into view a Harbour Porpoise was sighted hiding below the surface swimming curiously along the bow before shooting away towards the shallow sandbanks along the coastline. This was followed by an active Porpoise breaching in shallow water half an hour later; our final sighting. 

A great trip with a great team on a great ship!  Many thanks to DFDS Seaways and the Captain and crew for allowing us on Sirenia Seaways over the last few years.  Our teams have always enjoyed being on the ship immensely and will miss this fantastic route!

Birds Sighted
At sea:

Mediterranean Gull – 6
Lesser Black-backed Gull – many
Herring Gull – many
Greater Black-backed Gull – many
Black-headed Gull – many
Common Gull – 8
Kittiwake – 5
Sandwich Tern – 5
Arctic Tern – 1
Gannet – 8
Great Skua – 21
Arctic Skua – 1
Guillemot – 2
Fulmar – 115+
Sooty Shearwater – 1
Common Scoter – 29
Eider – 1
Robin – 1*
Redwing – 2*
Pipit sp. – 1*

*On or around ferry:

On land (Esbjerg Port plus beach and dunes to the north-west)
Gull spp. – 1000’s (Largely BH, HG and LB)
Oystercatcher – 70 (300+ on sandbanks from ferry)
Redshank – 80 (several hundred on sandbank from ferry)
Calidris spp. (prob. Dunlin) – 1000+ on sandbank
Bar-tailed Godwit – 2
Whimbrel – 2
Common Sandpiper – 4
Hooded Crow – 4
Rook – 3
Jay – 2
Starling – 360
Wren – 2
Wheatear – 8
White Wagtail – 6
Meadow Pipit – 1
Tree Pipit – 1
Rock Pipit – 2
Willow Warbler – 2
Common Crossbill – 2
Linnet – 4
Reed Bunting – 8