Sooty shearwater saved by ORCA Wildlife Officers & Brittany Ferries!

15th Sep 2017

- Bert takes flight again! (photograph taken by entertainer Laurie Widdison)

Passengers sailing towards Portsmouth on a ferry from Spain were surprised to be joined by a bedraggled stowaway on deck. As Brittany Ferries’ Cap Finistère steamed through the Bay of Biscay from Bilbao, a seabird was blown aboard, buffeted by Storm Aileen. The bird was soaked and tired, and unable to take off again.

Fortunately the ship’s team of resident wildlife officers from whale and dolphin charity ORCA were on hand to assist the stricken animal, which they identified as a Sooty Shearwater thanks to its dark grey-brown plumage and long, narrow silver-lined wings.

- Bert was kept safe in the Wildlife Officers' cabin, whilst it preened its feathers and rested

The team contacted ORCA’s Portsmouth head office, and after speaking to a specialist they carefully took the bird—which they named Bert after the chimney sweep in Mary Poppins—into the warmth of a cabin.  They carefully placed him into a covered cardboard box to keep him calm and give him a chance to dry out and preen his feathers.

Once the ship had arrived in Portsmouth, turned around and headed back into the English Channel towards Spain, the team deemed that the bird was dry and strong enough to continue its journey. Sooty Shearwaters are known to fly over the Bay of Biscay in autumn, as they migrate from the eastern Atlantic towards the Southern Ocean to breed.

But the animals aren’t able to take off from the ground unassisted – they typically wait on tall clifftops for a strong gust of wind, spread their wings and leap into the skies.  The ORCA team replicated this by taking the bird to Cap Finistère’s top deck, and threw it high into the air. After a heart-stopping moment, Bert spread his wings and managed to soar into the sky.

Hazel Pittwood, one of the team who cared for the bird said “We were really worried to see the condition of the bird after such a rough storm, and we became quite fond of him during his brief stay with us aboard Cap Finistère. But it was such a relief when we released him back into the wild.”

Lucy Babey, ORCA’s head of science and conservation said: “We’re so proud of Hazel, Sophie and Ashleigh for all their hard work in nursing the bird back to fighting fitness. Spending so much time out at sea, the entire team are passionate about seabirds so it’s great to see a happy end to this story – hopefully we’ll see Bert out at sea again soon!”