It was a beautiful and sunny Saturday afternoon as the team arrived at the DFDS North Shields Passenger Terminal for the survey to Ijmuiden in The Netherlands and despite the first day of Autumn being just around the corner it was so warm!
The team were in high spirits and excitedly talked about what we might see on our trip across the North Sea as we checked in and obtained our boarding passes for the King Seaways. On the days leading up to the survey, there had been numerous cetacean sightings along the east coast including a humpback whale and fin whale feeding off the coast of Filey, North Yorkshire, so we remained hopeful that we would see something as we sailed towards Holland.
On boarding the ship, we were warmly greeted by Alex, the ORCA Wildlife Officer on deck 7 and after a quick catch-up we headed to our cabins to drop off our luggage and then reconvened to head to the observation deck for departure. With a blast of her horn, the King Seaways left the Port of Tyne and headed towards the harbour mouth and entered the North Sea in a sea state 6.
The team were warmly welcomed on to the bridge by Captain Jensen and Officer of the Watch, Patrick and we started our survey in a sea state 6, scattered clouds, dry conditions and good visibility. There was a light swell which remained comfortable and the sea state decreased from 6 to 4 after an hour of being on effort which made searching for cetaceans easier. As the ship made her way down the coastline and neared Whitby, a large rorqual blow was sighted on the starboard side towards the coast. The blow was seen twice before the animal disappeared, sadly without determining a species, but could it have been the humpback or fin whale which had been seen earlier in the week? With fading light, we ended our watch and headed towards our cabins, chatting about the blows before getting a good night's sleep.
No cetaceans were seen on the watch sailing into Ijmuiden, but the conditions had improved with a fluctuating 3-4 sea state and increased visibility which brought steady sightings of fulmar, gannet, razorbill, lesser black-backed gull and kittiwake. After visiting a few museums and a walk around a very warm and busy Amsterdam, we returned to the King Seaways to start our third watch and as we were leaving Ijmuiden, Alex and the team spotted a solitary harbour porpoise inside the sea wall from the window on deck 7! Apparently, Alex had never seen that before and as it was his final journey before disembarking in Newcastle, it made it even more memorable.
Heading out into the North Sea and back on the bridge, we were met with fantastic conditions which included a fluctuating 2-3 sea state, good visibility and no precipitation despite some dark clouds lingering over the wind farms. The sea was so calm and as the team eagerly searched for cetaceans, we spotted a single harbour porpoise swimming quickly down the portside, surfacing three times before disappearing into the wake. Our only sighting for watch 3, but a very worthwhile one.
The dark clouds that we had observed over the wind farms developed into rain overnight, but as we entered the bridge during first light on early Monday morning it had stopped, and only small puddles remained on the outside decks. We started our final watch and as the ship sailed towards North Shields in a 2-3 sea state, fog and mist significantly reduced our recording area, which made it difficult to search for cetaceans. We did however manage to spot 4 harbour porpoise, a group of 3 individuals followed by a single animal all swimming quickly away from the ship on the portside. Success, despite the poor visibility.
We left the bridge feeling very lucky to have had the opportunity to see these amazing animals and felt it had been a very productive and wonderful survey in some stunning weather conditions. We cannot wait to come back!
We would like to say a huge thank you to Captain Jensen, his Bridge Officers and the crew of the King Seaways for making us feel so welcome and for their hospitality, and to DFDS for their continued support of ORCA. Special thanks to Wildlife Officer Alex for his help and enthusiasm during the trip too.
Marine Mammals Seen:
Harbour Porpoise x 5
Unidentified Whale sp. (Blow) x 1
Cormorant, fulmar, gannet, great skua, great black-backed gull, guillemot, gull sp, herring gull, kittiwake, lesser black-backed gull, razorbill, shag and shearwater sp.
Emma Howe-Andrews (Team Leader), Mike Garner, Jane Charter, Timothy Wilks