There’s something in the water

Categories // North Sea

There’s something in the water

It's been another bumper week for harbour porpoise in the North with 428 recorded by Alex and Tom! 

There's been a some pretty strong, chilly winds hanging around the North Sea this past week but this hasn’t put passengers off coming out and spotting some amazing wildlife with us, just maybe with a couple more layers on than usual.  Bird wise we have noticed a lot more great skuas flying around at the moment, these kleptoparasitic birds lying in wait to steal the hard earned food of other birds. The species of auks we were seeing earlier in the season in great numbers such as guillemots and razorbills have been sighted starting to show off their winter plumages. Our friendly gannets are also still around in good numbers, the start of autumn meaning it is around the time they will begin their migrations to the south to spend their winters.

Our marine mammal sightings have been as plentiful as the birds with both white-beaked and bottlenose dolphins being sighted around the Newcastle side of our route. The bottlenose dolphins have been reliably seen feeding and breaching around the mouth of the River Tyne this week, putting on a great show for passengers. The stars of the show however have got to be the harbour porpoise! There must be something in the water that they are liking off the Yorkshire coast of England as this is where the majority of our sightings have occurred. I will pass over to Tom, our Wildlife Officer Placement, to run through some of our recent encounters with these cetaceans:

As Alex said, recent encounters have been plentiful with large amounts of sightings even in challenging conditions. For me, this week has brought a few firsts, including my first proper minke sightings of the placement and first definite sightings of white-beaked dolphins! These sightings on our second day on the Newcastle side of the crossing meant that we were lucky enough to get sightings of all four of the main North Sea species! That evening we recorded over 70 harbour porpoise, which felt like a very busy evening, although proved to only be a taster of what was to come.

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On the Sunday evening, the forecast of calm conditions meant that I headed out to do an early deck watch whilst Alex ran the presentation. Sightings started off slow with just a couple of porpoise before Alex arrived with many passengers that had enjoyed the talk. Sightings then started to come in thick and fast of large pods of harbour porpoises, with often too many to record at once! These large pods and calm seas made it much easier to point out the animals to passengers, with many getting very excited and even then starting to spot their own sightings which was nice to see! As the evening progressed and porpoise sightings continued we also had four minkes thrown into the mix. One of these surfaced a few times with a spectacular blow, which is unusual for these small whales, and allowed itself to be seen by loads of passengers, as it glowed in the light of the sunset behind us.

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With all the sightings, time seemed to get away from us and before we knew it, it was time to head down and start the quiz. As I started the quiz, Alex back counted up the numbers of sightings, which had gone far above what we could’ve remembered. That evening we found we had seen 208 harbour porpoise and 4 minke whales. A few busy deck watches since then brings our weekly total to 428 porpoises and 7 minkes!

With such good sightings over the past few weeks for both Rose and Anika and Alex and I, I think it’s safe to say we’re very excited to see what the next week (and my final week!) brings us!

Alex and Tom

ORCA Wildlife Officer and Wildlife Officer Placement - The North Sea