Cetaceaous and Cretaceous on the North Antrim Coast!

On 12 May I stepped on board the Causeway Lass for a wildlife and geology trip along the North Antrim coast, with our colleagues at Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust.

No sooner had we stepped on board the Causeway lass when we spotted our first two marine mammals... two spaniels swimming way out into the middle of the bay, chasing gulls. International spaniel rescue sprang into action and the Causeway Lass shepherded two tired but happy spaniels back to their owners on the shore.

We then set off for the Skerries Islands, location of the first Special Area for Conservation for Harbour Porpoise in the UK. We spotted a few grey seals lazing on the rocks, this species is more frequently encountered around the Skerries and Rathlin than elsewhere on the Northern Irish coast. We also had good views of eider, shell duck, herring gull, lesser black backed gull and black headed gulls, as well as shags and cormorants. Several rafts of black guillemot were also encountered.

North Coast Boat Trip dolphin 2016

Andrew Bratton of CCGHT informed us of the geological history of this part of the coastline, much of which is volcanic in origin. We also learned of the mighty battle fought between the Neptunists and the Vulcanists over the Skerries. These were not warring Gods or alien races but two opposing sides of a geological debate on whether basalt precipitated from seawater or was volcanic in origin.

We motored on towards Runkerry Head. Off that headland we spotted a lot of seabird foraging activity with gannets, guillemots, razorbills and gulls all excitedly feeding over a wide area of the sea. On the boats sounder4 we could see some sort of baitfish (small pelagic schooling fish) which were the source of the excitement. Often such foraging activity can indicate the presence of porpoises, dolphins or even whales, but despite heaving to for 20 mins nothing appeared, so we proceeded on towards the Giant’s Causeway.

We explored the fantastic geology of this area and on down to Carrickarede Rope Bridge. Some of the most spectacular features of the geology of this coastline can only be seen from the sea, so booking a boat trip is a great way to explore this part of the coastline. In the bay there we saw our first cetacean, brief glimpses of a single harbour porpoise as it made its way through the choppy seas. Most, but not all, got a glimpse before we lost it in the waves.
On the return journey all was quiet until just off Runkerry Point we spotted a group of 6-8 Bottlenose Dolphins. They approached the vessel a couple of times, allowing for a few quick photos but were not in the mood for playing and so we left them in peace. The bird sightings continued all the way back to the harbour, with the odd fly-over by a curious gannet and plenty of guillemots (of both species) and razorbills in evidence. Alas, no puffins!

It was a great day out in blazing sunshine and a fantastic way to explore the geology and features of the North Antrim coastline.

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