It was a warm, sunny Friday afternoon when the ORCA team gathered at the DFDS North Shield Terminal for our survey across the North Sea to Ijmuiden in The Netherlands. The team were in high spirits and excited to board the King Seaways and as we made our way to the ship, we talked about what we could possibly see and how we couldn’t wait to start our survey.
As we boarded the ship and climbed the stairs to deck 7, we were met with big smiles and enthusiastic hellos from Ingrid and Helen, the ORCA Wildlife Officers who were onboard. After a quick introduction and a brief update on the sightings from the last few days, we collected our survey equipment and headed to our cabins to drop off our luggage.
For departure, we joined Helen on the outside observation deck located at the front of the ship for a deck watch with the passengers who had gathered to see the ship leave port. The weather was amazing and with a loud blast of her horn, the King Seaways was underway and heading towards open sea into a sea state 3 and no swell. With excellent visibility, scattered clouds, sunshine and dry conditions, we were on our way and hopeful for sightings.
As we stood with Helen and the passengers, we noticed in the distance a large group of gannets diving ahead of the ship and as we sailed closer, we could see a group of bottlenose dolphins underneath them! The pod was spread out and were splashing and porpoising through the water as they chased their prey before disappearing down the starboard side of the ship. We hadn’t even started our survey and yet we had been lucky enough to see dolphins! Each of the passengers had huge smiles on their faces and were enthusiastically chatting about the dolphins whilst continuing to scan the sea for further glimpses of these beautiful animals. It was a powerful reminder of the positive influence that wildlife can have on people and why ORCA’s work is so important. It was almost time to go to guest services to see if we could access the bridge and just as we were about to leave a solitary harbour porpoise surfaced a few times off the starboard bow and then three white beaked dolphin appeared for a quick bow ride too! FIN-tastic!
We said goodbye to Helen and our fellow passengers and went to guest services and once on the bridge were warmly welcomed by Officers Patrick and Miles. The excellent weather conditions continued, and the first watch brought a sighting of two unidentified dolphins leaping and fast swimming on the starboard side in a sea state that fluctuated between 3-4.
Unfortunately, conditions had deteriorated overnight for our early morning watch heading towards Ijmuiden with the sea state fluctuating between 5-6, a 1-2 metre swell and an occasional rain shower. No cetaceans were sighted despite our best efforts, but we did see several birds sweeping across the waves that included fulmar, common tern, juvenile kittiwake and manx shearwater.
We had a pleasant few hours around Amsterdam and after a scrumptious lunch, we returned to the King Seaways to start our journey home, eagerly hoping for further sightings. Back on the bridge the sea state was a steady 3-4 and we had excellent visibility, but with this brought glare on the port side which made it tricky to scan for cetaceans. By the end of watch 3, no cetaceans had been recorded, but we did enjoy a rainbow and a stunning sunset and left the bridge in high spirits ready for our final watch into Newcastle on Sunday morning.
In the morning we awoke to rain, a sea state 4 and reduced visibility and we thought our chances of seeing cetaceans were slim, but little did we know as we made our way to the bridge that we were in for an absolute amazing final watch! The sightings happened in quick succession and as the ship progressed the sea state decreased from 4-2 which gave us an even better opportunity to spot cetaceans.
By the time we had said a massive thank you to the crew for their kind hospitality and left the bridge, we had recorded a Minke whale slipping beneath the waves on the starboard side, four unidentified dolphins, possibly White Beaked, splashing ahead of the ship that came in for a very brief bow ride, seven harbour porpoise surfacing and fast swimming at different intervals and another four unidentified dolphin. One group of three dolphins on the port side and one individual 650 metres starboard ahead. Each member of the team had sightings and were able to observe cetaceans in their natural habitat which was just awesome and we all felt that it had been a very productive and enjoyable survey. It left us feeling incredibly lucky to have seen so many awe-inspiring animals.
We would like to say a huge thank you to Captain Andreas Schou Kristensen, Bridge Officers Patrick and Miles, 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.
Marine Mammals Seen:
Harbour Porpoise x 7
Minke Whale x 1
Unidentified Dolphin x 10
Common Tern, fulmar, gannet, great black-backed gull, guillemot, herring gull, lesser black-backed gull and kittiwake.
Terrestrial Birds Seen (Amsterdam):
Carrion Crow, coot, Egyptian goose, feral pigeon, magpie and mute swan.
Emma Howe-Andrews (Team Leader), Hannah Lightley, Anna Sweeney, Elizabeth McDonnell