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World Oceans Day Cruise

June 6, 2015

Written by: Hazel Munt – Marine Centre Assistant, Kimmeridge

With great anticipation we started to leave the harbour, wondering what the trip would bring, and if we would see anything at all.  The worry was short lived as, almost instantly, we saw mediterranean gulls along the quay, and as we got further out, saw the cormorants swimming along with their heads barely above water.  Brian started by telling us about some of the history of the harbour, Poole, and Brownsea Lagoon.  As we sailed along we saw more cormorants drying themselves on posts and gracefully diving around the boat and unexpectedly popping up again.  Plenty more birds were along the lagoon wall, and on the beaches were several gull species including the great black-backed, who we watched saunter along the beach, having a go at any innocent oyster catcher trying to grab a bite to eat on the shore line.  Oyster catchers, amusingly, are delicate little birds, who do not actually catch oysters, but eat much smaller bivalves in the sand.

copyright Hazel Munt

Old Harry as we left the harbour. Copyright Hazel Munt

Once we got out of the harbour the wind was blasting us head on, giving us an exciting ride up to Durlston.  As we passed Studland, Julie gave us all a wonderful insight into what was below in the rare seagrass habitat that survives there, showing us specimens of the seahorses and the pipefish who dwell there, and educating us on how important the area is, especially to species such as the undulate ray juveniles who use the area as a nursery ground.  Everyone aboard was given a great insight into the natural wonders of Dorset.

Blackheaded gull 2012 - Eric Whittaker

Blackheaded Gull. Copyright Eric Whittaker

As we explored further, we saw several more cormorants, and some sandwich terns and more gulls, but suddenly Brian Bleese spotted a beautiful adult manx shearwater.  We watched for a fleeting minute as she graced us with her presence, slowly taking off, spreading her black wings and with only a few flaps, gracefully gliding away, dipping and rising over the ocean’s surface, living up to the shearwater’s name.  As we progressed along the cliffs Peter gave us an insight into the geology below, explaining the intricacies of the rock formations and the subsurface cliffs, which provide such a diverse habitat and supply the Purbeck coast with a healthy ecosystem.  We saw a brilliant example of a fault which shows the earth’s crusts movements from millions of years ago.  As well, we got to see the dramatic land slide scars which have occurred in recent years, moving entire woods several hundred meters down the sloping hills of the area.

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The Fault. Copyright Hazel Munt

Once reaching the slightly more sheltered waters past Durlston we got a good look at the guillemots that breed around the cliffs.  They lay their eggs straight onto the ledges with no nest.  They lay conical shaped eggs, which makes it quite difficult to roll in a straight line.  This adaptation means the eggs can’t roll off the cliff but instead roll in a circle.  Guillemot chicks will leave the nest with their parents within a few weeks of hatching.  Although they cannot fly, they plunge straight off the cliff into the sea and head out to sea with their parents, hunting, learning and growing up to come back in shore to breed.  We moved along to where puffins are known to breed and sat looking out for the 16 or so puffins that breed on the cliffs.  Finally, Ali managed to spot one perched on the cliff right between a herring gull and a guillemot nest.  The ‘I’ve seen a puffin’ smile spread across all the wardens faces and the guests started spotting them in the sea with bills stuffed full of sand eels.

Guillemot. Copyright Julie Hatcher

Guillemot. Copyright Julie Hatcher

Barrel Jellyfish. Copyright Julie Hatcher

As we started heading back I talked about marine mammals in the hope that they might appear, but sadly they eluded us.  Julie told us all the about the ocean drifting barrel jellyfish, which have been seen around our coasts a lot this year. As soon as she started telling us about them we saw around a dozen of these beautiful and graceful oddities.  Being planktonic and micro-plankton eaters they tend to live further out to sea, but the onshore winds and the high levels of coastal plankton has brought them in.  Sadly, quite a few have been seen washed up on Dorset’s beaches, and this is likely to be the end of the individual.

Old Harry welcoming us home again. Copyright Hazel Munt

Old Harry welcoming us home again. Copyright Hazel Munt

Gannet. Copyright Julie Hatcher

Gannet. Copyright Julie Hatcher

As we neared Old Harry on the way back, we saw a couple of gannets gaining great height above the water before diving at great speed.  They have adapted to dislocate their wings on impact to protect themselves from the force.  We had several moments where we thought we saw seals, but either they had the better of us or something else was mistaken for being a seal.  Although we did not see any, marine mammals are found around Dorset, and Dorset wildlife trust is trying to collect as much data on the subject as possible.  So, if you’re luckier than us, please let us know about your marine mammal sightings or anything else interesting you see in Dorset, you can email us on:

Kimmeridge@dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk or call on: 01929 481044 or find us tag us on facebook or twitter.

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Copyright Hazel Munt

To top the exciting and diverse trip off, the evening ended with a spectacular sunset over Poole and Old Harry, stamping a seal of faultlessness onto the end of the cruise. If you are thinking about joining us for a ‘World Oceans Day’ Cruise we have two more cruises in June.  Click the link below to get your ticket. http://www.dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/ocean-cruises.html

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Sunset over Poole. Copyright Hazel Munt

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