A great season for wildlife sightings in Scilly

Throughout the summer season The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust had a marine wildlife guide onboard Scillonian III as part of its Marine Biodiversity Project. Once a week, Paul Semmens was able to show the passengers the exciting marine mega fauna that could be spotted on the way to the Isles of Scilly, including dolphins, whales, basking sharks and sunfish. He was also recording everything as part of an on-going survey of what occurs in Cornish and Scillonian waters.

With improved weather this year compared to last year, a wealth of wildlife was spotted. The total for 2010 was an impressive 1291 animal sightings, which comprised of:

1058 common dolphins

99 harbour porpoises

57 basking sharks

41 bottlenose dolphins

16 minke whales

10 risso’s dolphins

9 ocean sunfish

1 white-beaked dolphin

Paul says ‘It was great to see so much more than last year and especially to pick up the rare white-beaked dolphin.’ The white-beaked dolphin is a northerly occurring species in the Atlantic and here in Cornwall we are towards the southern edge of its range. It is very rare here with August being the most likely month in which to spot it.

Paul’s highlights of the season also included a lunge-feeding minke whale, bow-riding Risso’s dolphins and breaching basking sharks. Basking sharks can occasionally be seen breaching (leaping clear of the water) particularly when they are in groups which may be some form of courtship display. Paul says ‘It’s amazing that for such a normally slow-moving fish they can get enough momentum to hurl themselves completely out of the water, though their landings are far from elegant!’

His findings, which are part of the Isles of Scilly Marine Biodiversity Project, are to be shared with MarineLife, an organisation which runs this kind of ferry based survey on a number of routes in Europe. The combined data will help to build up a picture of cetacean (whale and dolphin) movements and distribution across the North East Atlantic through the Atlantic Research Coalition (ARC).

As the sailings have now ended Paul says ‘I would like to thank all at the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, but particularly the officers and crew of the Scillonian III for help, support and humour during my work, and for making such an enjoyable and successful season’.

Jackie Hayman from the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company said ‘The whole team at the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company is delighted to be involved in the Marine Biodiversity Project again this year and we’re really proud that our vessel, the Scillonian III, is central to the important work that Paul Semmens and the Wildlife Trust does. Both the Scillonian III and Gry Maritha provide year-round lifeline services between the mainland and Scilly and this is just another example of how they’re used for a whole host of different reasons.’

As a fitting ending to the season Paul saw the largest school of common dolphins of the year on his last crossing; over 100 dolphins came to bow-ride the ship as it returned to Penance, putting his total sightings of this species