Minke whales, dolphins, Storm Miguel and a visit to the Farne Islands - it's been another jam packed week in the North Sea!
Another week has flown by on board the KING Seaways, with the North Sea throwing nearly every different type of weather there is at us. On my first evening back, just having finished my deck watch, as soon as I opened the ORCA Wildlife Centre for the evening we were treated to a minke whale surfacing just in front of the ship. Some passengers and I quickly jumped to the starboard windows and got to see a close up view as it surfaced right next to us and then a few more times as it swam into the distance. For the majority of them it was their first whale encounter! Some of the calmer weather through the week has also allowed passengers to spot white-beaked and bottlenose dolphins and lots of harbour porpoise. Some of the rougher weather we have experienced, such as Storm Miguel paying us a visit, can sometimes prevent sightings of cetaceans as they get masked from view in the white caps and swell. However, it can provide stunning scenes of waves breaking and rolling out at sea, with seabirds such as gannets and shearwaters swooping and soaring on the powerful air currents.
I was super excited on Sunday as I had been invited to join Dutch nature group Delta Safari on a day trip up to the Farne Islands. In past years ORCA Wildlife Officers have gone with them and had a brilliant time as the Farnes are world renowned for its wildlife. I don’t think I was fully prepared for how awesome the islands really are. As you sail out of Seahouses harbour you can begin to make out the huge swathes of seabirds flying around and sitting in their colonies. The majority of these species we can spot from on board the KING Seaways, however being so close to these animals really let you experience all of the sights, and smells! As you land on the islands you are greeted by all of the nesting terns, some of which can be pretty feisty as you walk by. Top Tip: Bring a hat with you!
The stars of the show are definitely the puffins. With around 40,000 pairs of puffins coming to the farne islands each year the sheer numbers of them are incredible. Having spent their winters out in the mid-Atlantic, each spring they fly to these little islands, find a burrow and make it home and then give birth to their chicks. A baby puffin is known as a puffling, how cute! While the pufflings grow inside the burrows, the adults must fly out to sea and gather sand eels for their chicks to eat. As they return to land they must ‘run the gauntlet’, one of the most dramatic animal behaviours I’ve witnessed. The process involves getting back to their own burrow, while having to pass the hordes of herring and black headed gulls, standing in wait to steal their catch. While quite stressful for the puffins, it is very clever the way the gulls have learnt over time that this is the easiest way to get their food. However, I am happy to say that the majority of puffins did make it back to their burrows, sand eel filled beaks still intact.
With this pretty action packed week drawing to a close let’s see if myself and the passengers on board the King Seaways can spot a whole load more cetaceans in the second week of my shift.
ORCA Wildlife Officer – North Sea