Posted by: orcaweb | June 20, 2017

Paul finds his porpoise in life

This week I am joined by our second placement of the season, Paul, after saying a fond farewell to Lexie, wishing her all the best with the rest of her studies. Paul is currently studying Wildlife Conservation at Liverpool John Moores University and has a keen interest in the natural world. Paul had stated that he was really looking forward to seeing our beloved harbour porpoise in the North Sea so I was hopeful that our first deck watch would give him this opportunity.

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Our second intern of the season, Paul with his friend Harry the harbour porpoise

It was looking good as we didn’t have to wait long to see some Gannets diving in a feeding frenzy not far from the mouth of the River Tyne.

Birds are a great indicator of whale and dolphin activity due to the fact that they often feed on the same fish species. When we see gannets dive feeding in this way, we make sure to keep our eyes on the water in the hope of some fins above the surface. This time however we were not so lucky and we finished the evening with no cetaceans to speak of.

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Always a favourite, a beautiful gannet

The next morning, as we approached Holland our first mammal sighting was not a cetacean but in fact a common (or harbour) seal. This is one of the two species of seal we see regularly on the crossing, the other being the grey seal. Seals can easily swim between Holland and North Shields, taking time to rest and feed on the rich fish stocks the North Sea has to offer on the way. It wasn’t long after this that Paul finally got to see his favourite species, the harbour porpoise. Three swam close by the ship, leaving a row of ripples in their wake.

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A Grey Seal at the surface

Thursday came around rather quickly and we were extremely pleased to greet our fellow wildlife enthusiast friends Delta Safari back on board. You may remember that 2 weeks ago they had shared a rough crossing with Julia and Lexie, thankfully for all, the weather had improved greatly for this trip and we were happy to have them all outside on the observation deck. Being keen bird watchers, the group all had eagle eyes and were extremely helpful in spotting many species.

The start of the weekend gave us all exactly what we’d been waiting for, a calm flat sea. Not quite a mirror but close enough, we saw many white-beaked dolphins and harbour porpoise as we sailed back in to North Shields. Usually once we arrive, I often feel rather sad as I know this means the end of the deck watch and time to knuckled down with some of our administrative tasks. Luckily Delta Safari had other plans for us.

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Delta Safari on the observation deck

After disembarking as quickly as we could, donned in our rather fetching Delta Safari caps (made entirely of recycled plastics!!) we boarded our coach and made our way to the Farne Islands. I had been to the Farnes once before with friends for a boat trip and loved it, this time we were not only taking the boat trip around the island but also getting off on one of the islands where many bird species are currently nesting. Almost immediately after stepping food on the island we were all attacked from above by extremely protective Arctic Terns. Some were still incubating their eggs whilst others already had their chicks. After making our way out with our ears still attached, we then came across a mass gathering of puffins, some resting, some scurrying in and out of burrows and others fighting off black headed gulls who were trying to steal their afternoons catch of fish.

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A Puffin seen on the Farne Islands

We also saw European shags, guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes, all with fluffy babies close by. I feel I could write an entire blog post about this visit to the Farnes but I must continue with our week because things really were starting to hot up from the decks of the DFDS King Seaways.

When we returned to our home from home, the King, we were delighted to see that the sea was wondrously tranquil, perfect for spotting whales and dolphins. With the elated Delta Safari team by our sides we spent the evening spotting several white-beaked dolphins racing towards the ship as well as many harbour porpoise. The next morning again was also filled with many harbour porpoise as we sailed back into the port of Ijmuiden and said ‘tot ziens’ to Delta Safari.

Sunday started off with a nice treat of lots of seals (common and grey) and harbour porpoises, many of whom were accompanied by their calves. By that evening, the sea had become a mirror and within seconds of being out on deck we were seeing small groups of harbour porpoise in the brilliant sunlight.

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A harbour porpoise caught in the sunlight

I end this week feeling very grateful for the wonderful sightings, the beautiful weather and our wonderful friends who have joined us throughout the week.

Come back next week for further updates from Paul to see how he’s getting on with life at sea.

Lucy

Posted by: orcaweb | June 13, 2017

A Fierce Finale in the North Sea

My final week on board the King Seaways got off to a stormy start. Following days of beautifully calm weather, providing us with loads of sightings, we received days of such rough weather that unfortunately meant deck watches were not even possible.

The rough weather began whilst leaving Newcastle on Monday evening. It was calm enough that we were able to carry out a deck watch, yet the waves were too large to lead to any sightings. This was the first deck watch that I carried out on my own, and I ended up being drenched in rain! I’ve also been lucky that it has taken me three weeks to be rained on during a deck watch.

My hopes for carrying out a deck watch the next morning were high, but I found myself disappointed when we discovered that the Observation Deck was shut. We were hoping that the bad weather would pass, but soon realised this was not the case.

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Some gulls flying along with the ship

Before we set sail from Ijmuiden on Tuesday evening we were aware we would likely be in for a rough journey. Within the harbour walls, where the water is normally calm, the sea looked very rough.

As soon as we passed through the walls, the ship began to sway!  Julia found this very exciting! It was my turn to give the presentation that evening, and there were moments that I had to lean on the wall to ensure I didn’t fall over!

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Stormy weather out at sea

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Me (Lexie) on the Observation Deck during the storm

It was a relief to find calm sea and an open Observation Deck on Friday morning, and we stayed out as long as possible to make the most of the deck watch. We were pleasantly greeted by calm seas again that evening, and noticed some splashes in the distance. The splashes were moving along in a line as if being produced by an animal, but despite me looking through binoculars and Julia taking photos, we did not see anything! However a few minutes later I very briefly saw a harbour porpoise on the other side of the ship.

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The mysterious splashes!

Although the sea has calmed down considerably, unfortunately we haven’t had any more sightings. An ORCA survey team came on board for a return crossing, and saw a few dolphins the first day.  However, we need to always remind ourselves that no sightings is still really vital data – it’s still useful to know that the animals aren’t there..as well as when they are!

I have really enjoyed the past four weeks, and am going to miss being on board. I have learnt so much since being here, and have seen a huge amount of wildlife. I have progressed from being overwhelmed by all the new facts I heard in the presentation on my first evening to being able to give that same presentation myself.

Despite having really enjoyed myself in general, I have a few particular highlights. My first highlight was the evening during my second week where the sea became a mirror and we were constantly seeing cetaceans. I appear to have been right when I said during my last blog that I didn’t think I would experience another evening quite like that. Despite this, we did have a few very good days last week. The ship hit a patch of lovely calm seas lasting about three days, and during just one of those days we saw 40 harbour porpoise alone! We also saw numerous white-beaked dolphins which was very exciting. Unfortunately we have not yet seen anymore minke whales, which is a shame as I wanted to see one breach before I got off the ship, but there’s still time to see that!

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Lovely calm seas spotted from the Observation Deck

Another highlight of mine was our trip to the Farne Islands. I am amazed by how many birds we saw, as I hadn’t quite comprehended how many there would be. It was remarkable seeing the cliffs completely covered in birds. The trip gave me the opportunity to get up close to many birds, witnessing not just one nesting bird but in fact thousands, including many puffins which I had never seen before! What really excited me, however, was when an arctic tern decided rather than just pecking me on the head it would sit there for a good five minutes!

 

Overall, I have had a fantastic four weeks. I am really glad that I decided to take part in this experience, and hope that the next three placements have a wonderful a time – just like I have had.

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A beautiful sunset to bring an end to my amazing four weeks on board

Lexie

Posted by: orcaweb | June 5, 2017

Exciting times here in the North Sea

At the end of May, I embarked for another fortnight on board the DFDS King Seaways. It is unbelievable how time flies by, as we are now already in our 11th week of this year’s Wildlife Officer season! As I had met our first trainee, Lexie, for only one day when she first embarked I was really looking forward to go on board again and run our wildlife activities together.

On my first day back on board – on the shared crossing with my colleague Lucy – we had a wonderful deck watch. In fact we always seem to do. I think our shared crossings bring us luck! That evening we enjoyed several harbour porpoise sightings and counted 9 of these small cetaceans by the end the day.

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Harbour porpoise mother with calf

Later during the week we were again blessed with amazing deck watches, as we had fantastic spotting conditions. The sea surface just showed a few ripples or was even as calm as a mirror. That meant we saw a lot of harbour porpoise and white-beaked dolphins. One time we even had such nice and clear waters that we could actually see a porpoise underneath the water surface. Amazing! At the end of this week we had seen 54 harbour porpoises, 14 white-beaked dolphins and one grey seal in total.

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Harbour porpoise in clear water

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A lovely white-beaked dolphin breaking the water’s surface

On Friday, we met with the Dutch wildlife watching group Delta Safari, who came on board for a mini-cruise, arriving back in Ijmuiden on Sunday morning. It was really nice to meet the group leaders Marco and Eva, and Lexie and I really appreciated that they offered us to join them on their bird watching trip to the Farne Islands. Of course Lexie and I were absolutely thrilled to go with them!

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Julia & Lexie amazed by the birds!

What a day it was! We had an absolutely fantastic time. Starting in the harbour of a little town called Seahouses we first enjoyed a boat tour around the Farne Islands, which lie just off the coast of north-eastern England, and then spent an hour on one of the islands. Both from the boat and walking on the little marked pathways where walking is allowed, we could see thousands of nesting seabirds. We could see the beautiful puffins with their blue, red and orange coloured beak, floating on the water surface, diving, sitting on top of steep cliffs, walking quite awkwardly on the grassy slopes and flying above the water with amazingly swift wingbeats!

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A beak full of sandeels!

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Beautiful puffin

We could also observe an incredible number of guillemots both swimming and diving in the water and filling up the cliffs so that there is hardly any rock for you left to see. The guillemots were also joined by razorbills, kittiwakes and shags – all nesting along the steep rocky cliffs.

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Birds everywhere you look!

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Busy breeding colony

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Majestic guillemots

On the grassy patches on top of the island, there are many arctic terns and a few sandwich terns to admire. These ground nesting, incredibly noisy birds can be quite aggressive and will defend their nests viciously! You need to brave yourself for walking along the path with quite a lot of terns flying around and at you, shrieking in your ear and pecking at your head – not to mention that it is really advisable to wear a cap, as this protects you from their sharp beaks and the bird poo that is likely to fall onto your head!

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Arctic tern

We also saw grey seals, popping their head out of the water or resting on the rocky surface; we hope that some of these grey seals might come to visit us during our deck watches on board the King Seaways later on this week!

Eider ducks, oystercatchers, black-headed and black-backed gulls. To sum up, it was an absolutely amazing experience for both Lexie and I, and just an incredible sight to take in. We both couldn’t stop smiling and were just absolutely awed by all these amazing creatures in such high numbers! So a huge thank you to Delta Safari for making it possible for us to join them on this exciting trip!!

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Grey seal resting on the rock

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Feeding time for the little shag chicks

After the excitement we had on Saturday, we were again greeted by a lovely calm sea, which resulted in a lot of sightings of harbour porpoise and white-beaked dolphins. This was also thanks to the many group members of Delta Safari that joined us on our daily deck watch. It is just great having so many eyes looking out for wildlife, as we could spot much more cetaceans like this – especially as these keen bird watchers have well trained eyes!

Something that caught Lexie and me by surprise was the lovely sunny and really warm weather we found on Sunday morning, when we arrived out on the observation deck. Instead of having to wear quite a number of layers, as we usually do, we actually conducted our marine mammal survey with only wearing a shirt. Looks like warm weather has finally caught up to us here in the North Sea!

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Sunny times out on the observation deck

This week has brought us some amazing wildlife encounters, both on board the ship and during our trip to the Farne Islands. I really enjoyed having our first trainee Lexie on board. She is doing really well and has now delivered several presentations to passengers and also conducted surveys on the observation deck on her own. I hope she will enjoy her last week of her placement and I hope that we will have some more exciting sightings during the week to come!

Until next time,

Julia

Posted by: orcaweb | May 30, 2017

A Fantastic Fortnight!

My name is Lexie, and I have just completed my second week on board the DFDS King Seaways as a Trainee Wildlife Officer. I am a third year Zoology student at the University of Southampton, and decided to apply for this placement following an email from a lecturer, and was really excited when I was offered the first placement of the season! I have really enjoyed my time on the ship so far, and have learnt so much, ranging from identifying seabird species to using the Logger in which we record survey/deck watch data on.

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A herring gull flying over the ship

The week started with us sailing into Newcastle on Monday morning. The sea was calm and there was little wind, however, unfortunately no cetaceans were seen. As the water around Newcastle has led to many dolphin sightings in the past, and we had seen the first minke whale of the season there the week before, we were hopeful we might have an active watch. However by the time evening rolled around and we got out on deck, the sea had become choppy with lots of white water present, only birds were seen. Despite there only being 600 passengers on-board, many visited the ORCA centre and it was nice to see so many people interested in the work that we do.

Sailing into Ijmuiden on Tuesday morning we were fortunate to have lovely calm seas but again the cetaceans were nowhere to be found. This weather continued into the evening with calm seas and a warm breeze. The combination of the calm seas and being near the Dutch windfarms meant we were hopeful we would see some harbour porpoises. Unfortunately we didn’t spot anything, despite being accompanied by some eagle-eyed passengers. Regardless of the lack of marine life, it was refreshing to see an absence of balloons and other litter floating in the sea! Later that evening, some passengers visited the ORCA centre from Florida, and showed us amazing videos of bottlenose dolphins which were a lot skinnier than the ones found around the UK due to the warmer weather.

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A flock of birds feeding at sea

Whilst sailing through the waters around Newcastle, Wednesday turned out to be a fantastic day for sightings! We were out on deck early by 7:30am, and were quickly rewarded with a sighting of three harbour porpoises. However, that evening things were about to become much more exciting! The sea was so calm it was what we would describe as a mirror, allowing us to see harbour porpoises, white beaked dolphins, grey seals, common seals and a minke whale in addition to lots of seabirds! We were out on deck for three hours until it became too dark to survey anymore, but during those three hours there were so many sightings I could hardly keep up with it all on the logger! I am only halfway through my placement, but I doubt I will witness another deck watch as impressive as that!

Thursday morning we were joined by many passengers who were also hoping to catch a glimpse of something following the excitement of the night before. The sea remained calm, but we did not spot anything, continuing into the evening with a calm sea yet lack of sightings. In addition to spotting no cetaceans, I also saw very few birds which makes me wonder if perhaps the fish have moved out of the area, as on Wednesday evening we saw lots of birds as well as lots of cetaceans.

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Herring gulls looking out to sea as we sail into the port of Ijmuiden

Friday became yet another day with a lack of sightings. The sea started out rough but calmed down before approaching the harbour walls of North Shields. By the evening the sea had become very rough, and it seems Lucy’s weather forecast prediction was spot on! On Wednesday evening as we sailed through the blissfully calm waters, Lucy informed me that water this calm is often followed by stormy weather about 48 hours later. We only surveyed for an hour, and like we expected saw nothing. Despite the lack of wildlife, Friday was still an enjoyable day. Whilst docked in Newcastle we did lifeboat training, which involved watching a lifeboat being launched and travelling in one along the River Tyne! I’d never been in a lifeboat before and had always wondered how they fit so many people in, but I can now see that they are much larger inside than I originally thought. Whilst out on the evening deck watch, I had a passenger show me a video of a group of orcas they had seen from the coast in Scotland, meaning I was able to see at least some cetaceans, even if they were in video form.

Despite temperatures reaching 30 degrees in Ijmuiden on Saturday, we had yet another day with no sightings. Sunday morning we managed to break the trend of having no sightings by seeing many large splashes in the distance, but sadly didn’t manage to identify the species.

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The windfarms off the coast of Holland

I have really enjoyed my past two weeks on board, and have learnt a lot from Lucy. I feel I have made a lot of progress, and last night I gave my first presentation which ended up being in front of quite a crowd! I am looking forward to my next two weeks with Julia, and with half term having begun I am expecting the ship to get a lot busier.

Lexie

Posted by: orcaweb | May 22, 2017

Wildlife Officer Placements begin in the North Sea!

This is my favourite time of year to be a Wildlife Officer! Not only do sightings generally start to increase as we creep towards summer, but we now start our Wildlife Officer Placement programme where lucky participants join myself (Lucy) and Julia on board for four straight weeks to learn all about the wildlife of the North Sea, life on the open ocean and what it takes to be a Wildlife Officer.

Having done a similar four week placement with ORCA myself 2 years ago I am really excited to pass on everything I have learnt over the past few years to our excited new recruits. This week we are joined by Lexie.  Lexie is currently studying Zoology at the University of Southampton and after successfully getting through our application and interview process she is now a member of the crew on board the DFDS King Seaways.

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Lexie, this years first intern out on deck

Despite not seeing any cetaceans on her first ever deck watch, the following morning we were welcomed by a beautifully calm flat sea. This meant that Lexie was able to catch her first glimpse of a couple of harbour porpoise as we sailed towards Ijmuiden and just as we passed through the windfarms that hug the Dutch coast we also saw a very large grey seal, swimming along at the surface.

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Windfarms off the Dutch coast

Thursday, something quite bizarre but also very exciting happened. Just as we were discussing with passengers out on the observation deck the variety of species that we can see here, there was a huge splash directly ahead of the bow. A large animal had clearly just breached out of the water and all that remained was a huge puddle of foamy white water. With everyone on deck discussing what exactly they had seen it became apparent that a Minke whale was the culprit. Minke whales migrate through the North Sea heading to Arctic waters in the summer to feed in the cold nutrient rich waters. One couple even said they saw long lines running down the whales white underside. These are the rorqual pleats that these baleen whales use to help them feed on shoals of small fish. Exciting and frustrating all at the same time, this was our first official Minke whale sighting of the year and it was so quick we almost didn’t see it happen at all.

The next few days were rather choppy and a ferocious sea state 9 and high winds meant we were unable to survey. Just in time for the weekend the seas calmed once more and we were hopeful that on our sail into Newcastle we would catch a better glimpse of another Minke whale. Despite there being plenty of bird activity including gannets, kittiwakes, terns, gulls and fulmars there was not a cetacean in sight that morning.

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A black-backed gull

After the vanishing Minke whale we had a few quiet deck watches where even with relatively good conditions we didn’t see a lot, there were very few birds as well as cetaceans and I was starting to think that perhaps the fish had moved elsewhere temporarily, taking the rest of the wildlife with them. One thing we were seeing a lot of though were balloons! I couldn’t believe it, in less than 7 days we had seen over a dozen different balloons floating on the seas surface, many of them far from the coast. It saddens me that from a moment of happiness these single use items find their way into the ocean and cause severe harm to many species of marine animals. Balloons, just like all other plastics leach harmful chemicals into the water. Even worse, once they burst they sink through the water and are often ingested by whales, dolphins and birds as well as fish and turtles, who mistake them for a tasty treat. They do not biodegrade, they never go away, leaving behind a deadly trace of that once happy moment. Please reconsider when thinking about buying balloons for loved ones or using them for promotional events or memorials. There are much less harmful ways in which to celebrate.

On Sunday after a lovely day exploring Amsterdam with Lexie we went outside for our evening deck watch and it almost felt as though we had been transported into the southern hemisphere, well maybe not quite! The sea was flat and the sun was shining high in the sky, there was very little wind and we could feel the warmth of the sun on our skin for the first time this season. It was glorious. With these fantastic conditions we were lucky enough to see a harbour porpoise swimming fast ahead of the ship. There were several passengers with us due to the warm weather and the calm seas meant that they all got to see this speedy cetacean before the ship sailed onwards towards the horizon.

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Sun on a calm North Sea

As Lexie completes her first week on board she has really come on leaps and bounds, proving she is a quick learner, she is already using our Logger to record weather conditions and sightings as well as speaking to the centre’s visitors about all the things she has learnt so far. I have no doubt she will achieve much more in the coming week and will be excited to tell you all about it in her first blog post next week.

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Lexie explaining the sightings board

Thanks again for stopping by and please do visit our website for all the latest whale and dolphin news from the ORCA team.

Lucy

Posted by: orcaweb | May 15, 2017

Some special guests this week

It’s week 8 for the North Sea Wildlife Officers!  On Monday morning I disembarked the ship to meet a group of 50 students from Newcastle University, who boarded the King Seaways to learn about North Sea wildlife.  These students are taking courses in Marine Zoology, Marine Biology as well as Marine Biology and Oceanography.

Students learning about North Sea Wildlife in the main bar on board the DFDS King Seaways

As – together with the university staff and the photographer accompanying us for the visit – we counted 55 people, the ORCA wildlife centre wasn’t big enough to accommodate us all. That’s why we had to move to the main bar area of the ship where the students could follow the presentation on a big screen. After delivering the presentation about ORCA, our main projects and scientific surveys that we do, I proudly showed the students our wildlife centre. As usual, the wildlife artefacts, such as the skulls of bottlenose dolphin, grey seal and harbour porpoise, were very popular. Then, we moved to an outside deck of the ship to spot and identify some of the bird species. Unfortunately we quickly had to say goodbye to each other, as they had a very tight schedule and a busy programme ahead of them during their field week. It was nice having them on board and I hope they enjoyed their visit!

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A flock of gulls

After this busy afternoon having the students on board, I had a lovely evening with some very eager passengers who attended the main talk of the evening on the wildlife of the North Sea. Equipped with some binoculars they were also keen on joining me for the scheduled deck watch. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to spot any cetaceans that day.

I have met a lot of fantastic passengers this week, who keep telling me about their amazing adventures. For example, I had the pleasure of meeting a nice Scottish man, who’s now retired and is doing sightseeing tours with his boat, where he also spots lots of different whales, dolphins and porpoises! I also had other interesting conversations with a nature photographer – who’s living half the year in Scotland and the other half taking photographs of the northern lights in Sweden – and someone managing nature reserves in Scotland!

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Two lovely guillemots

One evening I had a few Dutch visitors attending the presentation, so I gave it a go to actually deliver the talk in Dutch. With a little bit of help from my lovely audience I managed to tell them all about the amazing wildlife you can find here in the North Sea. Although I had to switch back to English at some point, as new passengers joined us, this was definitely fun! This week I also met a very eager young boy and his family, and he was already quite an expert in marine wildlife!

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Eager passengers

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Adult and juvenile herring gull ready for take off!

On Friday afternoon, an ORCA survey team came on board to conduct a marine mammal survey from the bridge of the King Seaways.  Such survey teams consist of ORCA members who also train to become Marine Mammal Surveyors! They kept watch from the bridge after we left port until sunset and the following day, and from sunrise to arrival in port. Although the visibility was poor that first day due to fog, the team managed to spot several harbour porpoise – and so did I! Luckily we had less fog on Saturday and very good spotting conditions, as the sea surface was really calm. This brought them, me and some passengers some more sightings of harbour porpoise!

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This week’s ORCA survey team

You might remember Ruth (second from the right), as she was a Wildlife Officer in the North Sea 2 years ago!

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Not ideal spotting conditions…

On Sunday morning I had to say goodbye to the lovely survey team. It’s really great that there are so many ORCA volunteers who take part in these offshore surveys, as they collecti vital data about marine mammals, and therefore identifying important areas for these animals. If you are interested in becoming an ORCA member and in training to become a Marine Mammal Surveyor, you can have a look at our website www.orcaweb.org.uk! Taking part in surveys can be an amazing opportunity to help cetaceans and to see some fantastic wildlife!

Although their last survey on Sunday ended with no further cetacean sightings, we could enjoy some nice bird sightings when the survey team joined me on the observation deck, as we approached our landing spot in North Shields. Next to observing the cormorants drying their feathers on a fence, we could also see a beautiful male Eider duck swimming in the water.

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Cormorants in North Shields

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A beautiful male Eider duck

Monday morning, during my deck watch, I was surprised by a slightly unusual visitor – a collared dove. Shortly after landing on the guard rail of the ship, it took off over the water together with another fellow dove. Apart from this and some other bird sightings I couldn’t spot any whales or dolphins. So now I hope that my colleague Lucy and our first placement Alexandra, who will come on board tomorrow, will have a lot of fantastic sightings the next two weeks, as my fortnight on board has already come to an end. I’m looking forward to meeting Alexandra and hope she will have a great time with us!

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A coloured dove visiting the ship!

Until next time,

Julia

This fortnight on board was off to an amazing start! As I was embarking in Ijmuiden on Monday, I had a shared crossing with my fellow Wildlife Officer Lucy. We had a really beautiful calm sea and were rewarded with a lot of cetacean sightings this day! When Lucy had to return to our ORCA wildlife centre to run our evening programme I was lucky enough to be able to stay out on the observation deck for the entire evening. Due to the great spotting conditions I had about 8 sightings by the end of the evening, adding up to 20 harbour porpoise in total.

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A lovely harbour porpoise

In addition, this amazing – almost three hour long – deck watch came to a lovely end with a stunning sunset over the North Sea. What a great view to end the day with and what a great start to my next two weeks on board the King Seaways!

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A stunning sunset

After having had such a fantastic evening deck watch I was of course hopeful that this lovely calm sea would stay and bring more sightings of marine mammals. Unfortunately, the spotting conditions deteriorated throughout the week and the sea was rough once again. Having had no cetacean sightings on Tuesday, I even found the observation deck to be closed on Wednesday morning, when I wanted to start my deck watch after breakfast. Instead of doing a deck watch I opened the wildlife centre and so this was a good opportunity for people to have a look around.

The next few days didn’t bring any more luck regarding the spotting of whales and dolphins. But nevertheless passengers and I were able to spot many different kinds of birds, including sandwich terns, greater and lesser black-backed gulls, kittiwakes, fulmars, guillemots and cormorants.

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Greater black-backed gull about to take off

One day, after delivering our presentation in the centre, I put on some layers as usual to go onto the observation deck to do our daily deck watch. These layers include hat, scarf, gloves, waterproof trousers, at least two layers of fleece and a waterproof jacket.

Walking from the wildlife centre towards the observation deck at the front of the ship, you can sometimes get a few questioning and mildly amused gazes from passengers, probably asking themselves what on earth I am up to. Well I can’t really blame them – as I probably look like going on some winter expedition. But I can tell you it’s definitely worth on putting on some layers as usually it is quite cold out on the observation deck.

Even if passengers joining me are a bit doubtful in the beginning whether all these clothes are necessary, they usually agree after a few minutes standing in a cold breeze looking out onto the sea! Once you get to spot a whale or dolphin in the sea, everything about the weather is forgotten anyway and is well worth standing in the cold for!

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A beautiful gannet with its reflection

Although the sea continued to be rough, I spotted a harbour porpoise very close to the ship on Friday. So that is proof that it is always worth to keep looking out for whales and dolphins! Even if the conditions of spotting wildlife in the water aren’t ideal you never know what you might see. This proved to be true the next day as well, when I managed to spot three more harbour porpoise in the choppy sea.

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Juvenile gull above the water

This week I also had a really good time in our wildlife centre on board, as most of the days I had quite a large audience joining me for our talk on the wildlife of the North Sea – often filling up all the chairs and even sitting on the floor. One evening I had two young boys attending the talk who were very keen on the topic and asked me lots and lots of questions about marine wildlife. To have an engaging audience is always really nice!

I also had a lot of Dutch visitors this week, which was great as I was able to give them information in their mother tongue. After having talked about all the species names in English during the presentation for example, it’s really great to watch people’s face lighten up with recognition when they realise which species I’m actually talking about once I speak to them in Dutch or German. Although many of the passengers are perfectly able to follow our program in English, it really comes in handy from time to time to be able to talk to passengers in different languages – especially when it comes to small children. So I’m really happy to be able to help them and to put my language skills to use.

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Guillemot on a calm sea surface

As usual my week on board has gone by really quickly and now I’m looking forward to my second week here in the North Sea. I am hoping for some better weather, as this morning, on Monday, the observation deck was closed again due to the rough sea state. Fingers crossed for some more amazing wildlife sightings!

Julia

Posted by: orcaweb | May 2, 2017

Riding the Waves of Life at Sea!

Week 6 of the Wildlife Officer season on board the DFDS King Seaways started with less than favourable weather. A heavy swell and a high sea state meant that spotting cetaceans (whales, dolphins & porpoises) was seemingly impossible. The terns were still out in force however despite the strong winds and it was becoming apparent now that our three most seen species were the Arctic, common and sandwich tern.

The heavy swell and terrible sea state continued and the observation deck was closed on Wednesday morning meaning that the early deck watch had to be cancelled. This meant however that I was able to open the wildlife centre and engage with passengers who hadn’t had a chance to see our amazing facilities the night before.

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The pilot boat battling the waves to guide us into the harbour at Ijmuiden

By Friday afternoon I was overjoyed to see that the stormy seas had left us and the surface of the sea was beautifully flat and calm once more. Excited to get started with that evenings deck watch, lucky passengers saw harbour porpoise within minutes of being out on deck!

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The scenic arrival into North Shields

Saturday morning I awoke to a beautifully flat sea once more and I couldn’t believe my luck. After a quick breakfast in the crew mess I headed out to the observation deck at the front of the ship and it wasn’t long before I spotted my first harbour porpoise. I saw one more before we approached the wind farms outside of Ijmuiden and as we got closer to shore and shipping activity increased no more cetaceans were spotted. It is always a real treat to see the harbour porpoise as due to their small size they can be hard to spot in anything other than perfect conditions.

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A calm flat sea, perfect for cetacean spotting

I chose to stay out on deck whilst the ship was coming into port that day, the sun was beautifully warm and it seemed like a waste to go back inside prematurely. This gave me an opportunity to view and photograph the masses of birds that live around the mouth of the port at Ijmuiden. Mostly gulls, greater and lesser black backed as well as herring gulls, there was also the occasional cormorant or Egyptian goose. The most surprising sight was in fact a of flock of mute swans flying past with their long necks stretched right out in front of them.

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A flock of mute swans fly by

That afternoon as we left the port of Ijmuiden and after I had delivered my presentation on wildlife of the North Sea, I took passengers to the observation deck hopeful for another flat sea.  Whilst the sea was not as wild as it had been, conditions had definitely worsened and the appearance of white caps meant that no cetaceans were seen that evening.

On Sunday afternoon I headed out for the usual deck watch greated once again by enourmous waves and a heavy swell. This did not prevent passengers from joining me and there was a great feeling of excitement amongst my companions. We spotted serveral birds including gannets, fulmars and guillemots but we all knew spotting any cetaceans was going to be tricky in these conditions. As the waves came crashing in the whole deck was alive with the sheer power coming from the ocean. I truly love seeing the ocean in its wildest states, it is a constant reminder of how small we really are on this blue planet. With every roll there was a cheer from the crowd and then suddenly a wave so large that we all were showered in sea spray. Again this caused an uproar of excitement from everyone on deck, it was fun despite the lack of whales or dolphins. Unfortunately, as I had suspected, the deck was then closed off as the captain and bridge crew made the decision to close the observation deck for the rest of the evening, what an exhilarating half an our at sea it was though!

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Excited passengers enjoying the ocean at its wildest

This week has really been a good opportunity to practise my bird spotting skills and it really does amaze me, how many bird species we see in all manner of weather. Whilst we are blown around the observation deck, gannets sore gracefully, gulls glide past and terns flutter by noisily. Even the auks, small and almost awkward looking in flight seem unscathed by the harsh winds.

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The gull colony as we sail into Ijmuiden

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A juvenille gull takes a rest on the ships bow

 

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A cormorant in flight

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A northern gannet soars above the waves

On Monday Julia embarked in Ijmuiden and this gave both of us the chance to work together and catch up on the previous two weeks activities. With her, Julia brought great weather conditions. The evenings watch could not have been any more different from the recent weather if it tried. The sea was flat and calm and within minutes we saw our first harbour porpoise. By the end of the evening we had seen 20 harbour porpoise, almost as many as had been seen in total over the last month. The best sighting was when 4 harbour porpoise surfaced directly ahead of the ship. This gave us a great opportunity to watch them for a greater period of time and even grab some quick pictures before they eventually disappeared beneath the surface. A truly lovely end to my fortnight on-board.

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A harbour porpoise surfaces ahead of the ship

I leave Julia now to hopefully keep hold of those lovely calm seas and keep spotting lovely cetaceans throughout the next two weeks. Who knows what the month of May might bring for both wildlife officers and passengers onboard the King Seaways.

Lucy – ORCA North Sea Wildlife Officer

If you would like to make a donation to help fund the fantastic work that ORCA do, or to become a member and train to become a Marine Mammal Surveyor to help us collect our vital scientific data, then please visit our website for more information!

Posted by: orcaweb | April 24, 2017

Taking Terns to Watch for Whales

As I boarded the King Seaways for my next fortnight at sea I was pleased that the crossing would be shared by my fellow Wildlife Officer Julia. It was really nice to be able to work together and catch up on all things North Sea. During our shared deck watch that evening Julia saw a seal but it was so quick that I missed it. I did however notice that the terns had arrived in my absence. Two weeks prior there had been a distinct absence of terns but now there were many chirping away in the sky which was lovely to see.  I really enjoy trying to identify the different species which is often tricky when out at sea. Both sandwich and common Terns have been spotted this week on board.

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A common tern preparing for take off

The following day after a very quiet deck watch albeit with terns chirping above the waves, Julia disembarked and I made my way into Holland with Dutch bird watchers and friends of ORCA, Delta Safari. What a great day it was! Marko and Ava of Delta Safari took myself and some members of the DFDS team to National Park Zuid Kennemerland and the Poelboerderij in Wormer en Jisperveld, two wonderful locations full of amazing bird life. Their knowledge of the bird species seen in the regions we visited was inspirational and I was able to swot up on my bird spotting skills and ID, as well as seeing some species I had never seen before including the black tailed godwit. Other species seen included green and greater spotted woodpeckers, a nesting mute swan, nest building coots, nightingales, great and blue tits, tree pipits, redstarts, oyster catchers, lapwings, barnacle geese, tufted ducks, shelducks, grey herons and even a marsh harrier! Thank you so much to both Marko and Ava for a fantastic day, the ORCA Wildlife Officers are looking forward to seeing you again this summer for some more wildlife watching!

On returning to the ship I had a really great audience for the afternoon’s presentation with bright kids and inquisitive adults alike. Followed by a deck watch this was one lucky group as within five minutes of being out on deck we saw a harbour porpoise swimming very quickly away from the ship. I couldn’t believe our luck – often when watching wildlife we have to wait hours before our first glimpse of hope.  This time no one was left waiting!

The bird numbers have definitely increased since I was last on board, and this is probably due to migrations, and we are also seeing a wider variety of species.  However, the whales, dolphins and porpoises are still being very illusive. Even if there are no cetacean sightings, the data that we collect out on deck is still extremely valuable. Understanding seasonal fluctuations of species is very important to gain further knowledge on the habits of different species seen here in the North Sea.

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The sun shining down on the North Sea

When departing from Newcastle, I deliver the ‘Wine & Whales’ evening lecture. This focuses on some of the main threats faced by cetaceans including plastic pollution. This issue of plastic pollution is a subject that I am personally extremely passionate about. Our global dependence on single use plastics is having a devastating effect on the marine environment and all of the organisms which inhabit it. When delivering this particular aspect of the presentation I like to offer easy and affordable solutions for people to incorporate into their lives to reduce their plastic consumption, such as using a reusable water bottle or a reusable coffee cup. These small changes to our lifestyle can cause great changes in not only our effect on the environment but also on our economy. Unfortunately I had some very recent examples of the kinds of plastic pollution seen most frequently in the North Sea. The previous deck watch in which we saw no cetaceans, we instead saw a McDonalds “Happy Meal” balloon, not such a happy sight if you ask me, and an inflatable crocodile too, the kind people purchase on holiday and often dispose of before returning home, what a waste! Let’s all take the small steps that we can to help reduce plastic pollution in the oceans and say no to single use plastics!

The rest of the week was very quiet and no more cetaceans were seen. An increased sea state and heavy swell made spotting wildlife increasingly difficult. The bad weather did not stop the bird sightings though and as well as the noisy terns on the hunt for fish there were also plenty of gannets, fulmars, guillemots and razorbills spotted.

Black headed gulls

Black headed gulls

As I go into the second week of my time on-board I hope to teach more people about the devestation caused by plastic pollution whilst spotting the wonderful wildlife of the North Sea. If you have any ideas or suggestions on how we can all reduce our consumption of plastics please do comment below.

Happy Wildlife Watching!

Lucy

If you would like to make a donation to help fund the fantastic work that ORCA do, or to become a member and train to become a Marine Mammal Surveyor to help us collect our vital scientific data, then please visit our website for more information!

Posted by: orcaweb | April 18, 2017

Easter holidays in the ORCA Wildlife Centre

The third week of this year’s Wildlife Officer season started with a pretty rough sea, so the conditions of spotting whales and dolphins weren’t ideal. Nevertheless I enjoyed my time here on board the DFDS King Seaways very much and this is due to the fantastic passengers that come into our ORCA Wildlife Centre every day. A big thank you to each one of you!

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Happy visitors in the ORCA Wildlife Centre

On Monday morning (10th of April) I was excited for the start of a new week, but unfortunately I found the observation deck to be closed due to high winds. Tuesday and Wednesday continued with often numerous white caps on the water and so I kept on telling passengers (and myself!) that there is never a guarantee of seeing whales and dolphins and that you need to have patience – plus, a calm sea state would be an advantage as well…

Rough Sea

Where are the whales?

By the middle of the week, the passengers and I were rewarded by several sightings of some wonderful puffins! They were sitting on the water surface and then quickly dived and disappeared again. The next few days brought more puffin sightings – to the delight of passengers and myself! These seabirds with a really colourful beak spend almost the entire year out on sea and only come on land for their breeding season, which starts late March or early April. Other highlights were a few sandwich terns and a flock of black-headed gulls, which I saw when we were approaching Ijmuiden.

Sandwich Tern

A beautiful sandwich tern

Flock black-headed gulls

A flock of black-headed gulls

On Friday evening passengers and I were greeted by a really calm sea with only small wavelets. Then it got even calmer with just a few ripples to be seen. Despite these great conditions there was no sign of whales, dolphins or porpoises in the water.

Although this nice and calm sea state was gone the next day, I was immensely happy to have finally spotted a small cetacean species – most likely a harbour porpoise – on Saturday! Even so the sea was quite rough and I only managed to catch a glimpse of this animal about 50 m ahead of the ship, I was very excited!

The next day it was cold, windy and raining. But there were still some brave passengers who endured these conditions out on the observation deck and joined me to look out for wildlife. We could see some of our usual visitors in the sky, such as gannets, kittiwakes, auks, herring gulls and black-backed gulls.

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Greater black-backed gull in flight

As this week was part of the Easter holidays many passengers, including a lot of families, visited the ORCA Wildlife Centre. As always – all of these passengers were a pleasure to meet! Having quite a lot of children visiting the centre also meant a lot of children’s activities. Memory games, quizzes, treasure hunts, children’s book reading, colouring and making Origami marine animals were all on my programme list! I have to admit though that the children (with some help of their parents) often did a better job at these Origami creatures than me! So I will have to do some practising!

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Arts & Crafts: Marine animals Origami

My second week here on board the King’s Seaways – as the first one – has been great and came to an end very quickly.  I am very happy to have spotted a harbour porpoise this week and I am very much looking forward to all the exciting sightings I’m sure this season will bring! This week Lucy will come on board, so join her next week for more information and exciting stories about the North Sea!

Best wishes,
Julia

Clouds & Sun

Beautiful view over the North Sea

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