The team met in good time at the port of Tyne to go through introductions and a briefing on survey protocol. There was a nice mixture of survey experience for this particular route, from a dozen of trips for one member and the first time for another.
Once on board the DFDS ‘King Seaways’ we were met by Alex Turvill the ORCA wildlife officer who provided us with our survey equipment and assisted in making all the necessary arrangements with reception. The Captain kindly invited the team to come up before we had even left the break waters, so after a quick meal in the mess we enthusiastically made our way to the bridge. The Captain familiarised everyone with the bridge and we went on effort at 18:15hrs.
Sadly, it was clear to see from the start the weather was not going to be as accommodating as the crew. With a sea state of either a 3 or 4 and the constant rain we had no marine mammal sightings. At one point, visibility reduced to 0.5km and even bird sightings were slim pickings. We did have a graceful lone gannet follow us for a while but unlike the size comparison photos in our ORCA whales and dolphins guide books, we did not see any cetaceans beneath this gannet.
Not discouraged by the previous night the team got up bright and early for the morning watch. However, it was clear to see that conditions had deteriorated. The sea state rapidly changed from a 4 to a 6 and the swell was very heavy. At times the bridge windows were completely whitened as the bow of the ship crashed through the swell. As a result of this and a wind force of 7-8 we abandoned the watch much earlier than planned. On returning to our cabins we could see the adverse effect the weather conditions were having on fellow passengers.
Looking out the bus windows from Ljmuiden to Amsterdam was very similar to that of the windows on the bridge with the rain reducing visibility. Although it was raining, spirits remained high and everyone really enjoyed themselves. As you can see from the photo below our determination to find a warm calm ocean view was rewarded, albeit a picture on a wall in a nice little café!!! As the weather improved we did at last get to see some wildlife with a nice selection of birds including a nesting pair of Egyptian Geese.
We did not attempt the return evening watch as the report from the captain was for force 7-8 winds up until midnight. Not wanting to waste our time on board we headed down to listen to a presentation form Alex in the ORCA viewing room. This was a great talk and fully appreciated by the DFDS passengers in attendance. Two of the team members were later rewarded with a brief harbour porpoise sighting which was recorded by Alex as an incidental.
The final morning everyone woke up really excited when we realised the ship felt very steady under foot. As we met for breakfast we all got to experience a beautiful sunrise. With pencils sharpened we felt the change in weather would bring us some sightings. The swell had definitely reduced, and sea state was now a 3, but unfortunately the team once again did not have any sightings. When the ship got to about 3 miles away from the port of Tyne the sea state teasingly dropped to a 1 with the team desperately wanting to go back out again that evening.
Even though we had no whale or dolphin sightings, the team remained positive throughout and acknowledged that ‘no sightings’ data is still valuable to help estimate abundance and density of cetaceans in the North Sea. The team would like to thank Captain Andreas Kristensen, the bridge officers and all of the DFDS staff for their hospitality during both exciting crossings and their continued support to ORCA.
Birds seen at Sea:
Gannet, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Herring Gull, Manx Sheerwater
Birds seen of Ijumuiden and Amsterdam:
Heron, Egyptian geese, coot, moorhen, black-headed gull, mallard, jackdaw, carrion crow, magpie, blackbird, mute swan, cormorant, tern, feral pigeon, great crested grebe, swallow, avocet, lesser black-backed gull, greater black-backed gull, ring necked parakeet.
Michael Burn (Team Leader), Moira Gainey, Paul Truscott, Dominika Blazewicz