Jun19

Wind farms of the North Sea

Categories // North Sea Wildlife Officer

Wind farms of the North Sea

When it's quiet on deck, you start looking at what else is around you at sea...

Whilst we have had a few different sightings of cetaceans throughout the week, such as harbour porpoise and white beaked dolphins, what has really stood out for me has been some of the conversations I have had with passengers on board the KING Seaways.  The amount of people who I talk to about wildlife, and countless other topics in between, allows me to meet some awesome individuals and hear some very interesting stories from them. For example, during one relatively quiet morning watch I began chatting to a man from Germany who turned out to be a scientific diver working in the Heligoland archipelago in the North Sea. He recounted tales of his time under the waters of the North Sea, particularly his encounters with the numerous seals and harbour porpoise of the region. Most of the time these stories start making me pretty jealous and I am developing a pretty long list of places to see wildlife all around the world!  

When no one else is around, whether its human or cetacean, you start looking at what else is around you at sea. While travelling in the North Sea it is easy to notice the amount of offshore construction that is out there, such as offshore wind farms and oil platforms. During my late evening Wonder of Whales talk, I discuss the effects of renewable energy on cetaceans, the main type in the marine environment being offshore wind farms, and it’s a pretty complicated issue. In one way they are very damaging to marine mammals, during their installation they create vast amounts of noise underwater as the turbine foundations are rammed into the sea bed to fix them in place. Studies have shown this process has impacts on cetaceans ranging from mild disturbance all the way to shifting their capacity to hear noises, known as noise induced threshold shift. This effect is particularly harmful to dolphins and porpoises due to their dependency on sound for feeding and navigation. In another way however wind farms can be quite good. Aside from the obvious of reducing the reliance on non-renewable fossil fuels, while operational these farms usually reduce the amount of fishing within them, large shipping traffic is unable to pass through them and you also get hard structures for which wildlife can grow on. What can happen in the end is by default they turn into a little marine protected area, with studies showing that in the following years after the harmful installation phase there can be an increase in marine mammals in these areas. It’s great to listen to passenger’s opinions and discuss all of these complex issues surrounding cetaceans and the marine environment and even learn more myself from others areas of interests and expertise.

I mentioned that there have been a range of sightings throughout the week, however the last evening of shift was so great it’s worth a quick mention. After cruising past a couple of the large offshore wind farms sitting near the Dutch coastline leaving Ijmuiden we were treated to flat, calm seas and a total of 30 harbour porpoise throughout the evening. What a way to end my time on board.

North Sea blog WK 12 harbour porpoise

I am going to hand over to Rose for her two weeks on board, lets hope for a whole bunch of cetaceans to show up!

Alex

ORCA Wildlife Officer – North Sea