Even if you don't spot a whale, dolphin or porpoise, there is always something amazing to see in the North Sea!
My second week onboard DFDS King Seaways, began with frustratingly few sightings. I spent hours watching the sea, not seeing a single whale, dolphin or porpoise. My bird ID skills certainly benefited from all the practice and I found the daily meditation of staring into the waves quite good for the soul! In a bid to raise my chances of getting that positive ID I started my morning watch early, and staying out later in the evening but still nothing. One of the more hardened crew members, with 12 years of cargo shipping under his belt, told me to try watching off the back of the ship as he reckoned little porpoise prefer to play in the back wash. With most of my free time being in port I started bolting my dinner down in two minutes flat and used the time saved to stare off the back of the ship before running to my scheduled talks, still with no luck.
On Saturday night I opened the ORCA lounge door to be greeted by a wall of mist and rolling waves, I couldn’t expect to see anything tonight. However, as the watch went on, I realized that the sea state was calming and after 45 minutes of watching it had gained an almost glass like consistency. With the sun low but the mist still present, the surface was reflecting white. It was completely perfect whale watching conditions despite the limited distance. The hour passed with no sighting but since the only two people with me on deck were keen birders we decided to stay out and continue as we had had some wonderful sightings of sandwich terns, gannets and fulmars quite close to the ship.
And then we saw a porpoise. And another. And Another.
I could barely contain my excitement enough to log the sighting properly – I had been waiting to see cetaceans for what seemed like months and here they were! One of the passengers yelled that another one had appeared to the starboard side and we stood excitedly watching its casual process before gathering around my logger so I could show them how we record the data. I had just finished the log when, when, almost unbelievably, directly in front of us a tall, steely grey dorsal fin and back emerged less than a 100m from the ship, gone as quick as it came. A solitary bottlenose dolphin. Not unheard of in this part of the North Sea but far from a regular sighting.
We watched until our eyes couldn’t pick anything out anymore, seeing several more porpoises. The passengers were thrilled to have seen these creatures having really come just to enjoy the birds and I was just glad to know that I hadn’t lost the ability to see them.
But what I really learned from this experience was that this kind of special sighting needs, yes, a little bit of a luck, but also a lot of patience and no expectations. Every day I had been getting up to go to deck watch to look for cetaceans and being disappointed when they didn’t show. Yet every day I see, without fail, something amazing. Last week four passengers and I watched through pouring rain as gannets and fulmars flew in and out of a rainbow formed in front of the ship. Just a few days ago I saw three avocets in an area I would have expected to be too far out to sea for them. Puffins are becoming regular visitors to the waves at sides of the ship. On some days it is just the rolling waves and the wind in my face. But what I will remember from now on is that although cetaceans are charismatic and beautiful, we are looking for them because they are indicators of the health of our sea and I should appreciate every part of that from the gulls, to the biting wind, because they are all part of the incredible nature of the North Sea.
Wildlife Officer - North Sea