Survey Reports

2019-06-11 - Aberdeen–Lerwick

Survey details

Survey route: Aberdeen–Lerwick

Company: NorthLink

Sea region: North Sea

Survey start date: 2019-06-11

Number of nights: 2

^ A family of orca in the north North Sea

The team met at Aberdeen ferry terminal, apprehensive of the Northerly gale forecast ahead of us.


After settling into our cabins and meeting the amiable crew we were allowed onto the bridge for an early departure. Captain McPherson and first officer Shane told us about the bottlenose dolphins at the harbour mouth.


As soon as the survey started at the breakwater a feeding frenzy of kittiwakes were above 8 bottlenose dolphins. We had superb views before the open sea.


The sea state was 4 rising to 5 with a 4 swell. After half an hour we had an unidentified dolphin surfacing close to the ship in the heavy swell. However the excitement really started after 2.5 hours into the survey. At starboard ahead I noticed splashing below a tight flock of kittiwakes. As we drew near a large upright dorsal fin appeared with a body slapping black and white cetacean nearby! We were watching a bull mother and calf orca`s. The whole bridge was buzzing. The closest we got was about 400m in heavy swell with spray splashing on the windows, but what a sight.


An hour later again an heavy swell with a port glare, portahead, again, there was frantic bird activity then whoosh! a vertical large blow. A fin whale rolled ahead. It passed us down the portside constantly feeding on surface fish. We were having a great survey even in poor conditions.


We finished slightly early in the evening as the conditions increased.


Indeed, we couldn’t survey on the approaches up the east side of Shetland.


After a superb breakfast onboard we had a hire car waiting outside. The local contacts had various sites lined up for us in a tour of the south part of Mainland Shetland.


We first headed to Boddam looking for otters but saw 2 feeding grey seals instead, various waders and 2 small eider families. Then off to the Loch of Hillwell where we caught up with 2 quietly feeding cranes.


Off to RSPB Sumburgh head and the lighthouse where it was somewhat windy, but it still allowed wonderful views of nesting puffin, fulmar, shags and guillemots with great skuas overhead.


We then drove down to the Sumburgh head hotel seeing skylarks, pipits, twite and wheatear on the way down for a pleasant lunch.


In the afternoon we went to the Loch of Spiggie seeing families of whooper swan and red throated diver.


Once leaving Lerwick harbour late afternoon, a seal was spotted and it was quiet in the shelter of the island but as we approached Sumburgh head the sea state rapidly increased to 4 and then continued to increase along with the swell until, with a heavy swell and a sea state increased to 7 with rain we had to abandon this transect.


The final transect we started early at 0400 am to try and see the orca`s in the same area as earlier in the survey but no luck. However we did manage a harbour porpoise and  1x bottlenose dolphin and grey seal in Aberdeen harbour.


I would like to thank Northlink ferries for this opportunity and especially the welcoming captain and his wonderful crew who made us so welcome and were so hospitable and generous.


Also I want to thank the ORCA team for their hard work in very difficult weather conditions.


Marine Mammals seen:- 


Orca x3


Bottlenose dolphin x9


Unidentified dolphins x1


Harbour porpoise  x1


Fin whale x1 


Grey seal x2


Birds seen:- 


Red throated diver, gannet, cormorant, shag, great black-backed gull, herring gull, kittiwake, black headed gull, fulmar, common tern, Arctic tern, sandwich tern, great skua, Arctic skua, cormorant, shag, common guillemot, black guillemot, razorbill, puffin, manx shearwater, rock dove, wood pigeon, skylark, shetland wren, pied wagtail, meadow pipit, rock pipit, dunnock, wheatear, hooded crow, raven, jackdaw, magpie, blackbird, common crane, mute swan, whooper swan, greylag goose, mallard, eider, tufted duck, long tailed duck, moorhen, turnstone, oystercatcher, lapwing, twite, whimbrel, curlew, common starling, blackbird, house sparrow.

^ Orca dorsal fin

^ Bottlenose dolphin seen on survey

Survey team members

Brian Clasper,Chris Stevenson, Yolanda Arjona and Elouise Cartner