On our arrival at the DFDS North Shields Terminal the weather for our survey across the North Sea to Ijmuiden in The Netherlands was forecast to be good and with a bit of luck the influence of Storm Hannah would stay firmly to the west of the British Isles.
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and the team were in high spirits and keen to board the Princess Seaway with the hopes of cetacean sightings and we couldn’t wait to start. After a quick and efficient check-in, we were on our way to our cabins to drop off our luggage and with a blast of her horn signalling an early departure the Princess Seaways left the Port of Tyne and entered the North Sea.
The team were warmly welcomed on to the bridge by Captain Jesper Bern and his crew and we started our survey in a sea state 3, scattered clouds, dry conditions and excellent visibility. There was a light swell which increased slightly throughout the first watch and a fluctuating 3-4 sea state, but it remained comfortable and good conditions for spotting cetaceans. There were steady sightings of birds which included kittiwake, fulmar, manx shearwater, razorbill and gannet, but despite our best efforts, no cetaceans were recorded. We saw a full rainbow ahead of the ship, arching over the surface of the sea and as we watched it slowly disappear, the light had also started to fade and we decided to retire to our cabins for a good night’s sleep in preparation for an early morning start.
Unfortunately, overnight conditions deteriorated as we sailed towards the Dutch coastline and into Storm Hannah which had moved up the English Channel and into the southern North Sea. Sadly, due to the conditions, we were unable to carry out an effort as the winds had reached Gale Force 8 bringing a heavy swell and movement across the ship. The weather was forecast to be better for our return journey to the UK, so we kept everything crossed that we would be able to carry out further efforts.
We had a pleasant few hours around Amsterdam and after a delicious lunch, we returned to the Princess Seaways to start our journey home, eagerly hoping for better weather and sightings. Back on the bridge, it was an absolutely beautiful evening, sunny, dry and a 2-3 sea state. The swell had dropped and remained light and with this came our first sighting, two adult harbour porpoise swimming ahead of the ship and moving towards the starboard side. We were able to observe their triangular dorsal breaking the surface for a couple of minutes until they disappeared. Brilliant! The second sighting was just over half an hour later when there was a splash by the port bow and as we looked, we could see two harbour porpoise just beneath the surface, their outline clearly visible as they moved away from the ship and into the wake. A very successful second watch which included a great skua crossing the bow.
Little did we know when we entered the bridge on early Monday morning we were in for a treat as the ship sailed towards North Shields. It was going to be a cetacean fest! It was a perfect morning at sea and as we observed the sunrise behind the ship on the starboard side, its orangey glow highlighting the wake, the sightings started. They came in quick succession and by the time we had said a massive thank you to Captain Bern and his crew for their kind hospitality and left the bridge we had recorded a Minke whale surfacing a few times ahead of the ship on the port side and then slipping beneath the waves, four bottlenose dolphins, two of which were less than 100 metres off the port side and sixteen harbour porpoise that varied from a single individual to a small group of four!
Each member of the team had sightings and were able to observe cetaceans in their natural habitat which was just fantastic and we all felt it had been a very productive and memorable survey. It left us feeling incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to see so many awe-inspiring animals and we couldn’t wait to get back out to sea to hopefully see some more on another survey for ORCA!
We would like to say a huge thank you to Captain Jesper Bern, his Bridge Officers and the crew of the Princess Seaways for making us feel so welcome and for their hospitality, and to DFDS for their continued support of ORCA.
Marine Mammals Seen:
Bottlenose dolphin x 4
Harbour porpoise x 20
Minke whale x 1
Arctic Tern, common tern, eider, fulmar, gannet, great skua, greater black-backed gull, gull sp, herring gull, kittwake, manx shearwater and razorbill.
Carrion crow, coot, feral pigeon, magpie and mute Swan.
Emma Howe-Andrews, David Newell, Iain Pringle, Katie Brotherton