A Ferry Nice Day!

On 20 April, we boarded the Stena Line ferry heading from Belfast to Cairnryan in Scotland to conduct an IWDG Ferry Survey for marine mammals. It was a glorious day with no rain and a calm sea – great conditions for some ferry surveying.

We were escorted to the Bridge of the ship by the captain and got comfortable in our 'office' for the day. Dave walked me through what we needed to record throughout our survey. Every 15 minutes, I entered various environmental conditions (sea state, swell, cloud cover and precipitation type) into a program called Logger, developed by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). I also updated the data if the conditions changed at any point of the day.

Dave and Patrick scanning for porpoises

For any marine mammal sightings during our survey, I learnt how to record the exact location and species on Logger. We also recorded any seabirds we saw, including gannets, shags, eider ducks, brown guillemots, black guillemots, razorbills, manx shearwaters, black-headed gulls, herring gulls, lesser black-backed gulls and fulmars.

had my binoculars in hand, was excited to get going, and had high hopes of spotting my first seal in Northern Ireland! Near the beginning of our journey, we noticed some porpoises swimming past, making this our first of several porpoise sightings of the day. As we neared Scotland, we sighted some more porpoises and I marvelled at gannets as they dived for fish. When we reached the lovely shores of Scotland, we stopped for a lunch break.

We set sail again and began our journey back to Belfast, still keeping a watchful eye out for any seals. But it was Patrick who spotted one first! I ran over and frantically scanned the area where he was pointing, but sadly, it had just popped its head up for a second and I missed it. Funnily enough, he sighted another one as we passed Bangor, and told me it could well be the resident seal named Sammy. Again, of course, I missed it.

I had almost given up hope of seeing a seal, but as we were approaching Belfast, Patrick the Seal Spotter urgently called me over – and this time I saw it! A great end to a great day – no whales, but multiple porpoise sightings, seabirds galore and of course seal sightings... good enough for me!

Supported by:


Esmee Fairbairn Logo Small