Survey Reports

2019-07-12 - Newcastle-Amsterdam

Survey details

Survey route: Newcastle-Amsterdam

Company: DFDS

Sea region: North Sea

Survey start date: 2019-07-12

Number of nights: 2

The ORCA team assembled at the ferry terminal in Newcastle ready to board the DFDS ‘Princess’, it’s always great to meet likeminded people with a keen interest in cetaceans, and learning about each other’s varied backgrounds. Shortly after boarding we were granted access to the crew mess for an early dinner before the ship’s departure, as well as a briefing to cover the survey protocol and the weekend’s plan of action for surveying during available daylight hours.


After enjoying the sunshine with the guests on the outside deck areas as we sailed out to sea, we were granted access to the bridge from 19:00; however, whilst assembling by guest services in the ship awaiting our escort to the bridge, Anna spotted a Minke whale from one of the starboard windows, only around 600m away.


Fortunately, we had relatively good conditions, a sea state three and a light swell. We had seen a number of large flocks of diving gannets since leaving the harbour walls, but despite our vigilance we had not sighted any cetaceans at the surface where the gannets were feeding… yet. Just after 19:30 we had our first brief sighting, of an unidentified medium cetacean feeding below a large flock of diving gannets. It was just over an hour later that two of the ORCA surveyors spotted a harbour porpoisee mother and calf very close to the ship, they were spooked by the ship and swam away at speed. After 21:00 we had our final sighting of the watch, 3 unidentified dolphins far from the ship, their splashes giving them away as they swam quickly through the wavelets. The sea state picked up to a four before the watch came to an end when daylight had retreated.


A somewhat unfavourable sea state four greeted the ORCA team as they arrived back on the bridge to begin the second watch of the survey as the ship sailed towards port. Our new surveyor, Roxy, spotted a lone harbour porpoise as we passed through an off-shore windfarm at around 08:25, just as the sea state had reduced to a three. Unfortunately, this was the only cetacean sighting of the watch.


After a nice day in Amsterdam enjoying some of the sights, shops, and foods, the ORCA team were back to surveying just after 18:00 when they were granted access to the bridge by the captain. The sea state was a four, but not for long, as it soon became a sea state five with many large frothy waves steaking the surface. The light swell also soon became moderate within the first hour; as such, it was a quiet watch before the team resigned at around 21:40 to rest before the mornings final stretch of the survey heading back into the port of Tyne.


With a moderate swell still present, but a more preferable sea state three, the ORCA team began the final watch of the weekend at approximately 06:00. The team weren’t watching for long before a Minke whale surfaced very close to the ship on the starboard side. The final sighting of the trip soon followed, two harbour porpoises actively swimming ahead of the ship.


Despite the unidyllic conditions during the trip, the team were positive throughout. The crew on board and the captain had been very welcoming and accommodating, we’d like to thank them for this, and DFDS for having us on board.


Cetacean summary:


Minke whale x2


Harbour porpoise x5


Medium cetacean x1


Unidentified dolphin  x3


Birds spotted at sea:


Guillemots, little auk, puffins, kittiwakes, fulmars, herring gulls, lesser and greater black-backed gulls, gannets, cormorants, great skewer, common terns, and a swan in the harbour in Amsterdam.

Survey team members

Maija Marsh, Anna Sweeney, Roxy Cunningham