Our team boarded the DFDS ‘King Seaways’ at the port of Tyne eager to crack on with the first leg of our survey across the North Sea to the port of Ijmuiden in Holland. We were greeted by Alex Turvill one of the on-board ORCA wildlife officers for the 2019 season. He appraised us of the marine mammals that had been seen on their recent ferry crossings.
We were allowed on the bridge shortly after we sailed and because of the good light conditions we were able to survey until 10pm. The sea state varied between 2 and 3. The only thing we recorded of interest was some distant splashes by our port observer which could have been a dolphin or a porpoise.
We were again surveying on the bridge at 6.40am the following day we had a good three hours of observation before we arrived in the port of Ijmuiden. This leg of the crossing was slightly more productive and we recorded a harbour porpoise and a grey seal.
All the ship’s passengers, including the ORCA team, were bussed into Amsterdam to spend a pleasant few hours sightseeing or just resting. We were back on-board ship and surveying again at 6.10pm just after she sailed. The sea state varied between 3 and 6 and at times the ‘white-caps’ on the sea made it difficult to observe animals. However, we were able to record a harbour seal and a mother and calf harbour porpoise.
We enjoyed a glorious sunset and even got a brief glimpse of the ‘green-flash’, a phenomenon not often easy to see at sunset.
We had an early start on our last leg of our survey. We were on the bridge at 6am enjoying a stunning sunrise. One of the joys of being an ORCA surveyor is the opportunity to make the most of daylight hours to look for animals. We established from the bridge crew that we were somewhere opposite Flamborough Head on the Yorkshire coast which was about a distance of 11 miles away to our port side. The cliffs along this coastline are famous for their seabird colonies especially at Bempton Cliffs which is an R.S.P.B. reserve. Historically the seas of here are also known as a good location to spot Minke whale. This report author has seen a Minke whale off Flamborough Head on a previous ORCA survey.
We had a brilliant sea state of 2 which in due course dropped to mirror calm. Ideal conditions for spotting anything from whales, dolphins and the diminutive porpoise. Before we arrived at our destination at the Port of Tyne at around 9am we had recorded a Minke whale, 2 white-beaked dolphins, 5 harbour porpoise, a grey seal and a couple of unidentified animals. It just goes to show what difference a good sea state makes to our observations. The highlight of the morning of course was seeing the Minke whale, elusive animals at the best of times, on our port side and close to the ship. We were pleased to hear later that Alex the wildlife officer and other passengers had also seen the Minke whale and the white-beaked dolphins.
We extend our thanks to the captain and the crew of the ‘King Seaways’ for their hospitality once again.
ORCA Team – Elfyn Pugh (team leader), Kathleen Neri, Louise Forster, Wang Cheng.
Species List –
Marine mammals – 1 Minke whale, 2 white-beaked dolphins, 8 harbour porpoise, 2 grey seals, a harbour seal and some unidentified small cetaceans
Gannet, common guillemot, razorbill, puffin, kittiwake, fulmar, herring gull, lesser black-backed gull, common tern, sandwich tern, black tern (Ijmuiden), 2 dark phase pomarine skuas (one ferociously attacked by an Arctic skua!), common scoter (female), cormorant, 1 goose sp. at sea (Brent?), eider ducks. Collared dove flying around the ship at sea.
Port of Ijmuiden and Amsterdam- shelduck, oystercatcher, heron, mute swan, magpie, Egyptian goose, coot, moorhen, mallard, great crested grebes, jackdaw, woodpigeon.