To the great relief of the team leader, three of the team assembled at Newcastle station with time for lunch before joining the fourth member at the terminal.
Boarding the King Seaways went without a hitch and it was good to have a brief chat with the ORCA wildlife officers before dropping our luggage in the cabins.
Local team member, Becca, reported that there had been numerous sightings of Minke whale and white beaked dolphins. This was particularly good news to the team leader who had seen white-beaked dolphins in other locations, but was convinced that they adopted an avoidance policy every time she was on this route.
Once the team had ‘refuelled’ in the crew’s mess and the ship was beyond the breakwater, we sought permission to go to the bridge full of anticipation after Becca’s news.
We were not disappointed. The first watch began at 18:55 and eight minutes later “sighting!” was heard. This was the first bridge survey for three of the team and one member was hoping for her first cetacean sighting. Needless to say this was a learning opportunity too good to miss as we all marvelled at 10 white beaked dolphins taking it in turns to breach, leaving the suspected avoidance strategy in tatters.
Sadly this didn’t mark the start of a trend. The remainder of the watch yielded two incidental sightings of harbour porpoise interspersed with a close Minke whale, which in keeping with tradition, rolled once and disappeared depriving two of the new surveyors of some valuable experience.
The next morning we were greeted with a sea state1 which soon rose to a maximum of 2, and a cloudless sky. Apart from the glare it was almost surveying heaven. Unfortunately the cetaceans remained in hiding apart from one harbour porpoise which appeared very briefly just ahead of the boat. The sighting of this watch, though, had to be the purple heron just in front of us at bridge height as we approached the Dutch coast.
We had a relaxing time in Amsterdam exploring the Noord Market, canals and Cheese Museum, seeking respite from the sun in cafes in between.
On the return trip the wind had whipped the sea into a sea state 5 which gradually dropped to a 2 over the course of the evening. However, this did not assist us with any sightings on this watch. We retired in the hope that the sea state would remain low without any fog for the next morning especially as we would be returning to the most productive area of the trip.
We were delighted to start surveying in a sea state 2 but it gradually increased to a 4 for 45 minutes, before dropping back to a 1 for the last half hour. Only 4 sightings of harbour porpoise made it to the data sheet, so the white beaked ‘avoidance strategy’ was quite clearly back in place.
Many thanks to an enthusiastic team who performed well on their first line transect survey, quickly settling into the routine and getting to grips with changing weather conditions. They will be valuable surveyors as they gain more experience.
On behalf of ORCA I thank Captain Flemming Langballe and crew of DFDS King Seaways for invaluable help and warm welcome.
Marine Mammals Sightings: