I really can’t believe that this day has come, and I have to say goodbye to our lovely wildlife centre on board the DFDS King Seaways, to the amazing North Sea – which can range between lovely and quite uncomfortably stormy – to all the fantastic wildlife that’s flying above and swimming below, to the lovely crew on board, my fellow Wildlife Officer Lucy and our colleagues in the office and of course to all the great passengers and readers that have joined our journey these past few months.

These past few days on board have been a mixture of ‘business as usual’ and slowly realising that the end of the season is approaching quickly, especially as I slowly had to remove things from our beautiful wildlife centre to safely store away in our absence over the winter. I feel sad that our programme on board is now finished, but I’m also really grateful and happy about all the great experiences these past few months have brought.

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Stunning view on the observation deck

In total this season we have seen nearly 400 marine mammals. Our most commonly seen species was the harbour porpoise with about 243 individuals sighted. This is followed by 58 white-beaked dolphins and 34 seals. We spotted 10 marvellous minke whales and 3 bottlenose dolphins. The rest is made up of ‘other’ recorded sightings, so that means that we didn’t see enough of the animal to accurately identify it to species level. What a fantastic season!

Regarding my wildlife sightings highlights, I definitely have to name my first ever spotted minke whale here in the North Sea in just absolutely perfect, calm conditions.

This highlight is followed closely by a pod of white-beaked dolphins with one in the group leaping clear of the water several times in a row, putting on a spectacular show for me and the passengers who were watching. And of course not to forget all the lovely harbour porpoise sightings, especially in calm waters, when you could see them surfacing with their characteristic rolling swimming motion.

Even if we weren’t always lucky enough to spot whales, dolphins or porpoises, all the lovely birds were our loyal companions. We could observe gannets, guillemots, puffins, razorbills, cormorants, great skuas, different gull and tern species and many more. Our all-time favourite were the beautiful gannets, soaring in the sky or plunge-diving to catch their fish. Another season highlight for both Lucy and me were our visits to the Farne Islands, where we could marvel at some amazing bird life!

Besides our observations out on deck, which Lucy and I always enjoyed very much (most of the times even when it was really cold and windy), we welcomed a lot of amazing passengers into our wildlife centre, where we delivered talks and lectures, children’s activities and just chatted to people about the wonderful wildlife we have here on our doorstep! In total, we engaged with nearly 23,000 passengers from more than 20 different countries! We were also involved with the local community in North Shields and run events and visits for school and university groups here on board. During the summer months, we had four lovely Wildlife Officer Placements, who did an amazing job at helping us with all our people engagement activities. A huge thanks to you again!

It really has been an amazing experience to run the Wildlife Officer programme on board the King Seaways. I learned so much about the wildlife here in the North Sea and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting so many nice passengers that are really interested in nature and seeking ways how to protect it. I absolutely loved doing both the surveys out on deck and giving the presentations in the ORCA wildlife centre – which is quite amazing, if I think back to my school days; then I never would have thought that I would ever enjoy public speaking!

Both Lucy and I would like to thank all the lovely crew on board, who made our stay here that much more enjoyable. They are probably the hardest-working people we have ever met. We wish you all the best and hopefully we’ll see each other again soon! Also a huge thank you to the fabulous ORCA team in the head office and DFDS, who have always supported us here up in the North and who made our wonderful North Sea experience possible. And of course we are grateful for all the fantastic passengers that joined our activities and for you, the readers of this blog, for taking an interest.

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Wildlife Officers Julia & Lucy ready to spot some whales and dolphins

So now, it is really time to say goodbye. Thanks everyone for making these past six month an unforgettable experience. We are sad to leave now, but wish all the best to ORCA and this wonderful programme. It was absolutely great being a part of it! Looking forward to seeing what next Wildlife Officer season will bring, so do check back in next year again, in March 2018!

All the best,

Julia

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Posted by: orcaweb | September 25, 2017

A sea of clouds and rainbows

Hello everyone and welcome back to our weekly blog telling you all about our Wildlife Officer programme on board the DFDS King Seaways. On 18th September I embarked for my last shift on board as (unbelievably!) our ORCA wildlife season will finish on 29th September, so this time I’m here for just a bit under two weeks.

I really can’t believe it’s the end of the season. The last six months have absolutely flown by. It’s been absolutely great running the Wildlife Officer programme on board, meeting all the wonderful passengers and of course spotting all of this amazing wildlife. But I don’t want to wrap up the season just yet, as I will first tell you about this week on board and you’ll get another ‘farewell’ – blog from me at the end of this week.

So how was my week? It started with quite calm waters, but no sightings. Tuesday morning there were a lot of diving gannets, which are always great to observe. What was the most striking feeling of this day’s morning deck watch sailing towards Newcastle though, was that I was feeling horribly cold. I thought that even during summer it has always been fairly cold and windy out on deck and that there wasn’t too much of a difference to the beginning of the season in March. At least I didn’t really change the number of layers of clothing I was wearing. But that day I realised how wrong I was and that it’s starting to get much colder again. I probably should be wearing some more layers.

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What would a blog be without a photo of a gannet?

Another thing that made the past few deck watches a bit difficult – next to the wintery weather – was that the light actually began to fade in the evening. With the sunset being around 7:30 already it’s been quite hard to watch for a full hour. The benefit of this was of course being able to actually watch some of these beautiful sunsets. However that’s only possible when we leave the Ijmuiden side of our crossing as it’s only then that we’re facing west with the bow of the ship where our observation deck is located.

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Stunning sunset over the North Sea

With the first few deck watches of last week being quite uneventful, I was in for a nice surprise on Thursday evening. The sea was pretty calm with just small wavelets. Because of these calm waters I immediately noticed a few splashes quite far away. As there was no white water to be seen anywhere at all, I knew these splashes had to be an indication of some animals. Indeed, I was able to identify a white-beaked dolphin breaking the water surface a couple of times as it went on its way. While I was busy recording all the information about this sighting, two stunning rainbows were building up in the sky. When I looked up from our data logger, I saw four beautiful parts of these two rainbows, one on each end of the arch. One of them was particular bright and big and seemed to be so near, the colours seemed to glow and shine very intensively. I’ve never seen a rainbow like this before. It was really a stunning sight. Shortly thereafter I saw another group of dolphins, splashing about in the distance, and sometime later on a harbour porpoise quite close to the ship. So this was really a marvellous deck watch!

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A bright glowing rainbow over the North Sea

What has always fascinated me these past few months were the different colours of the sea and the sky. It’s amazing how much that can change the whole atmosphere. Sometimes I really wondered if it was still the same sea I was travelling on as it could look so utterly different from just a few hours and sometimes even minutes before. You get colours ranging from deep marine blue, blue-greenish, turquoise, dull grey to shining silvery colours – with the whole sea looking just like liquid silver. And then of course if you have a flat or near flat sea surface, a beautiful evening sky reflected in the water can transform the whole scenery just into something magical.

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Beautiful evening sky – a fantastic view out on the observation deck

Saturday brought some special visitors on board, as one of the volunteer ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyor teams embarked for its last survey of this season. It’s always really nice to meet and chat to these volunteers, as usually they have a lot of fascinating wildlife and life stories to tell you about. While I saw one unidentified dolphin Saturday morning, neither the survey team nor I had any sighting during the evening nor on Sunday.

The last few days I welcomed a lot of Dutch and German speaking visitors. On one occasion I presented our main talk about the wildlife of the North Sea in Dutch. Especially the children were happy about this, as they could ask me any questions themselves, without needing a translator. On Sunday evening I started to deliver a German presentation, but had to switch back to English, as there were a few more English speaking people joining. It’s no problem at all though, if you’re not able to follow everything in English, as we do have Dutch and German handouts on board to follow the presentations in the ORCA centre.

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A rather pale sun disappearing into the fog

So now it’s only a couple of more days before the end of this year’s wildlife season on board. I’ll cherish these last few days on board and maybe I can tell you about a few more fantastic sightings in our last blog. So join us in a couple of days to get a final summary of this year’s wildlife season and a heartfelt goodbye from myself!

Julia

Posted by: orcaweb | September 19, 2017

It’s the final count down……

I find myself in my final full week working on-board the DFDS King Seaways. I can’t say it began with the greatest start, heavy sea states, sideways rain and icy cold winds made deck watches rather challenging this week. On a few occasions the deck was shut due to a heavy swell and high winds and the ‘white horses’ were consistent in their gallop.

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Dramatic lighting of the autumnal North Sea

When the weather is less than desirable it is always the birds of the North Sea that keep our faith in its wildlife! The great skuas seemed to have increased in number, always a favourite addition to any deck watch, even in the constant rain these bulky birds pursue the meals of other unsuspecting sea birds.

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A great skua

With all this rain it was inevitable that we would see rainbows and what a treat they were. One day we even sailed straight underneath the full arch of a brilliant bow! So bright one moment and then quickly fading away into the misty damp air. With the bad weather I’ve also had time to notice the wonderful colours of winter. The thick clouds and changing light cause amazing displays. Blues, violets and purples making the cold air feel even colder and then autumnal golden yellows and oranges warming the observation deck back up, if only visually. Cloud formation enthusiasts would also be having a real field day, sometimes being so low they feel close enough to touch.

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A striking rainbow amongst the mist

Finally as the weekend came around the sea calmed enough for some brief sightings of harbour porpoise. The birds also seemed to come out in force taking advantage of the storms mixing powers on the sea. The clouds had even cleared enough for myself and passengers to enjoy a wonderful sunset.

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A beautiful sunset

On Sunday, I took shore leave in Newcastle to visit Whitley Bay at take part in the annual Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean event. Here myself and almost 40 other volunteers from the local area came together, litter pickers in hand to remove any debris that we could find. The most common item we found were cigarette filters. It takes a cigarette filter approximately 200 years to degrade, that means every modern day cigarette filter every created still exists on this planet somewhere in some form! So not only is smoking incredibly bad for your health, it is also poisoning our marine wildlife as well. Other items found were cable ties and plastic bags. All of which are extremely detrimental to marine wildlife. Please remember if visiting your local coast line take only pictures and leave only memories, let’s all help to preserve the natural beauty of our shores.

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Our data from the beach clean at Whitley Bay

By Monday morning the sideways rain had returned with a vengeance and I was happy to great Julia back on-board that evening. Julia will now be on-board for the final week of the season with myself joining her on several occasions to close the Wildlife Officer season. Please come back next week to see how Julia gets on and to see a summary of our sightings so this year.

Lucy

Posted by: orcaweb | September 12, 2017

Winter is coming!

Arriving on Tuesday morning I was happy to hear that Charlie had seen white-beaked dolphins on the mornings’ sail in, giving him a good send off for the end of his Wildlife Officer placement. Charlie was the last of our placements for this year and what a great year it has been for them all. I’d like to personally thank Lexie, Paul, Beccy and Charlie for all of their hard work. Not only do they help to make our programme on-board so fulfilling but they all brought their own style and skills to the role that they undertook at sea for four weeks. If you or someone you know might be interested in joining us in the North Sea again next year please keep an eye on our website and social media. We should be opening applications for placements again in the New Year so keep your eyes peeled.

As I embarked with Julia, I was hopeful of sightings that evening and we were not left disappointed. Unidentified dolphins splashing in the distance, a couple of harbour porpoise near the bow and not one, not two, but three minke whales!  This made for a really great deck watch and a fantastic start to my next two weeks on-board. The sun began to set so we headed back in and even though the daylight was fading several passengers came into the centre to advise us they had seen large dark animals with small fins, more minkes were on the move.

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Things started off rather picturesque this week

The following day as Julia disembarked in Ijmuiden the weather had worsened and it is fair to say the summer has ended here in the North Sea. A heavy sea state meant no cetaceans were spotted on either deck watches. Gulls, gannets and skuas were all around though, always undeterred by the wild gales that can often sweep through. Due to the rapidly decreasing temperature I was alone for most of Thursdays morning deck watch however I never felt alone. Above my head were at least 20 gannets all soaring high, using the uplift from the ship to save their energy. I was grateful for their company and enjoying watching their swift movements as we returned to North Shields.  The following evening the weather worsened when the cold winds were joined by a heavy downpour of rain. It is definitely advisable to wear warm waterproof clothing should you be joining us out on deck! By Friday the sky had become so grey that the scenery looked like a black and white photograph and the evening was worse yet with the deck being so windy and rain coming in at a 90 degree angle that the deck watch had to be cancelled.

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Ijmuiden just in sight on a very grey day

Saturday thankfully the skies had brightened although there was still a lot of white water. Pleased to get into the safety of the River Tyne, I was thrilled to see a large grey seal swimming calmly by.

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A grey seal in the mouth of the river Tyne

By the end of the week, we were experiencing gale for seven winds and deck watches were getting more and more difficult. When in the centre I had to secure any loose items to ensure nothing fell and many passengers had retired to their cabins to sleep off the heavy swell.

With just one more full week left on-board for myself I am hoping the rough weather will subside just long enough for me to get in some really great sightings. Please come back next week with fingers crossed to see how I get on!

Lucy

Posted by: orcaweb | September 5, 2017

Enthusiastic passengers and a massive Thank you!

It has continued to be a rather quiet week for sightings here in the North Sea since last weeks whale encounter! Although Thursday morning did bring us a brief harbor porpoise sighting as we approached Ijmuiden (the port we dock at for Amsterdam). This was reassuring as we were beginning to wonder where our favourite little cetacean had gone!

We have continued, however, to have some fantastic aerial displays. The gannets have continued to fly using the up-draft created by the ship; I’m beginning to think they’re quite vain as it makes for an easy close up picture! We have also seen a few more great skua’s on the North Shields and Ijmuiden side of the crossing. These birds tend to scavenge for food and can be pretty aggressive, we have seen them attacking gulls for their dinner on a few occasions.

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Synchronized gannets

The gulls themselves are also rather cheeky as we had a second croissant thief on Saturday morning. The herring gull wasn’t particularly successful only getting the napkin on the first attempt. After a few more failed flybys they gave up, but did allow us to get some great pictures!

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Cheeky Herring Gull!

We can also still hear the guillemot chicks on the sea surface, although actually seeing them is a bit more challenging! In my four weeks alone I have seen a big change. The chicks have grown and are now a similar size to their parents and the adults are also showing their winter plumage. This is very similar to the chick’s plumage making it really hard to tell them apart!

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Guillemot adult and chick…. but which ones which!?

It has been great talking to the passengers on board the King Seaways and understanding their views on the wildlife and our environment. Some people are in complete awe of everything you tell them and are so enthusiastic about the wildlife and the work of ORCA. I have really enjoyed these encounters and seeing others enthusiasm continues to build my own.

We visited the Dove Marine Laboratory in Cullercoats for an open day on Wednesday. It was really enjoyable to see how interested the locals were about the marine life on their doorstep. Many were not aware of ORCA being onboard the DFDS King Seaways and were really interested to hear of our work and the wildlife that is in their local sea!

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Dove Marine Laboratory open day

As well as talking about marine life we have also spoken to passengers about marine litter. I find it interesting to discuss the doom and gloom subject with them. Many people are really positive about the work ORCA is doing.  Some passengers have even apologised for the state in which they have left the planet, and that we have to deal with the aftermath. Other passengers have talked about changes they have made, such as not wearing polyester fleeces, as plastic fibres are washed down the drain to ultimately end up in the sea. Another example is becoming more conscious about eating sustainably, such as not eating farmed salmon because of the huge environmental costs to the surrounding seas. Of course it is really important to educate people about these threats and environmental concerns, but it is not until we take responsibility that change occurs. Have a look at our Make a Small Change page for some inspiration!

I had some expectations about this placement and what I would gain from it. I was looking forward to understanding more about life in the North Sea, and engaging with passengers. I was quite nervous about the presentations but am really pleased that I have had the opportunity to develop in this area and am now really enjoying giving them. It is always a good thing to expand your comfort zone and my confidence has definitely grown throughout this experience.

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Harry the harbour porpoise is always a crowd pleaser!

Coming to the end of these four weeks I definitely have a greater knowledge, sense of achievement and fulfillment than I could have hoped for. Something I didn’t expect was to gain such a sense of responsibility and I am so excited for my future career in this area and to make a difference. This has all been down to Julia and Lucy, thank you so much for giving me a great few weeks! I’m also looking forward to attending the Marine Mammal Surveyor course so that I can continue to support and contribute to ORCA’s fantastic work in the future!

Thank you so much for a really fantastic experience!!

Charlie – Wildlife Officer Placement

 

Posted by: orcaweb | September 4, 2017

Minke or fin??

Welcome back to another week on the lovely King Seaways! To start straight away: We have seen three beautiful minke whales on Saturday evening, somewhere along the English coast after having left North Shields… Or should I rather say fin whales?? You might wonder now what on Earth am I talking about, but I’ll explain it to you in a second.

Around eight pm, as we sailed along the north eastern coast of England, our current ORCA intern Charlie and I spotted a large, dark shape in the water ahead of the ship. Quickly it became clear that it was one of the rorqual whales surfacing in the lovely calm waters we could enjoy that day. Just a few seconds later there was another one surfacing closer to the ship on the port side – and it gets even better – soon thereafter a third one appeared on the starboard side. We couldn’t believe our luck!! And to add to this ‘sighting frenzy’, there was a grey seal popping its head out of the water just behind one of the whales and a little bit later on three more grey seals were spotted. Charlie and I, together with some passengers, were totally awed by these magnificent whales making an appearance.

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Dorsal fin of a rorqual, just before it disappears under water

But back to the ‘minke/fin whale problem’. The shape, general appearance and the fact that summer is peak season for minke whales on our route here didn’t really lead us to think about any other whale species than a minke whale. However, later that evening the ORCA Marine Mammal Survey team – who were on board that day to conduct one of our offshore surveys – said they recorded them as fin whales (which are quite rare to be seen here in the North Sea – but possible!). They perceived them to be much bigger than a minke whale. So you can imagine that lead to some interesting discussions.

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Grey seal swimming along

You might also think that it should be quite straightforward to distinguish a whale more than double the size from one that’s a lot smaller. Fin whales can reach up to 26 m; in contrast minke whales only 7 to 10 m on average. Nevertheless size can be quite difficult to judge when you are out on sea – especially if you’re high up on a fast moving vessel. The best way to identify any cetacean is always to combine a variety of different features, such as shape, size, colour, surfacing sequence, shape of dorsal fin, blow and behaviour. Unfortunately though, you don’t always get a good look on all of these or enough features. So to summarize, I can’t tell you for certain whether they were minke or fin whales, as we only got one photo of the dorsal fin, which unfortunately isn’t enough for a positive identification. Anyway, it was a great encounter and as always a real treat to see these cetaceans!!  For now, we will have to record them as unidentified whales.  Who knows, we might spot them again next week!

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Lovely calm seas – great whale watching conditions!

Apart from this very exciting evening the rest of the week was pretty quiet in terms of cetacean sightings, despite having near perfect spotting conditions. However, we were able to share sightings with passengers of seals, harbour porpoises and white-beaked dolphins.

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Two beautiful cormorants flying in asymmetry

On Thursday, Charlie and I had another really exciting day, when we visited the University of Newcastle’s Dove Marine Laboratory for their summer school sessions. We had everything packed the day before – including Harry, our inflatable harbour porpoise model – and disembarked the ship as soon as we got into port in North Shields. Our short taxi journey brought us to the beautiful Cullercoats Bay just north of North Shields.  In the morning I delivered an interactive talk about cetaceans, their evolution and common species in the North Sea. Afterwards the 11 to 14 years old pupils joined me outside for some land-based surveying! Although we didn’t spot any whale or dolphin from the shore, we could enjoy some birds swooping up and down the sky, as well as several sneaky gulls trying to steal the lunch off from people who were enjoying a sunny day on the beach.

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On the lookout for some wildlife at Cullercoats Bay

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Explaining the difference between toothed and baleen whales

In the afternoon I gave another talk about ORCA’s conservation work, survey methods, common species and volunteer opportunities with us. This introductory marine science course was aimed at 16+ year olds who are interested in the marine science sector. It was a really fun day and ORCA is very proud to be one of the partners of the Dove Marine Laboratory. It’s fantastic to engage with the local community and to inspire young people about the fascinating marine life that’s out there – on our doorsteps!

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Juvenile gannet soaring in the sky

As always we had a busy and exciting week – there’s hardly ever a dull moment around. This week will be Charlie’s last week on board the DFDS King Seaways, so make sure you’ll stop by next week to read all about how Charlie experienced his four week Wildlife Officer Placement on here. And hopefully we can report on some more mysterious whales by then!

Have a great week!

Julia

 

Posted by: orcaweb | August 22, 2017

Birds and Beach Cleans!

Hello! I’m Charlie, the fourth and final of this years ORCA Wildlife Officer Placements on board the DFDS King Seaways! I’ve had a fantastic two weeks with Lucy, learning all there is to know about the wildlife of the North Sea, as well as how ORCA operates, life on a DFDS ferry and working out how to use the crew lift!

One of the first things that struck me as we sailed into Ijmuiden for the first time is the massive amount of industry. After passing between some wind farms you can see the tall chimneys and smoke rising from the Dutch coast, along with a variety of cargo ships at anchor or on their way between ports. Having spent some time in the English channel I was aware of the high traffic volumes in this area, but when you see it every day you really begin to understand the vast quantities of shipping that goes on throughout our oceans.

It’s interesting to see the contrast between the wind farms and the huge piles of coal in the Ijmuiden port, it highlights the transition stage we are currently in between fossil fuels and cleaner energy. North of the River Tyne we can see the construction of new wind farms, but each time we arrive back in Ijmuiden it reminds us we still have a very long way to go to move away from fossil fuels and the pollution this causes.

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Aproaching Ijmuiden

One thing I will take away from this experience, which I hadn’t considered before, is how real the threat of pollution is to our environment. All of the figures and percentages about carbon emissions and plastic in our oceans, that we read online and see in the news, are real. Everyone knows there is plenty of rubbish in our oceans and most people know this is bad. However when you see balloons, beach balls and other miscellaneous objects most days it really puts it into context, until you see something and its effects its easy to turn a blind eye.

These thoughts have really highlighted to me how important the work of ORCA and other environmental charities are. It’s great that ORCA is making such a difference by inspiring others as well as collecting such vast and scientifically robust data. I’m really grateful to be contributing to such a worthwhile cause and am really excited to build my future career from my experience here with ORCA!

The weather continued to be relatively uncooperative this week – a lot of the time there was white water and some choppy waves. This makes sightings challenging, as the key features we look for are white water and dark shapes! But who doesn’t like a challenge!? With a bit of persistence and determination we have been lucky enough too see some harbour porpoises on both sides of the North Sea. I have also been really excited by all the diving gannets, they’re really spectacular to watch when feeding and we’ve been really lucky to have front row seats on a few occasions. The great skua that has cropped up in previous blogs has been seen on a few more occasions, which is really exciting. On Thursday evening this week we even saw a Manx shearwater, it was great to watch its distinctive flying pattern over the waves. So all in all I’ve had a great two weeks, but as always, fingers crossed for some flat seas!

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Couple of harbour porpoises

We’ve also been quite busy off the ship! On Tuesday 15th we joined a beach clean with Sandra and Geeke from the DFDS office in Holland. The Boskalis Beach Clean is an annual event in Holland where two teams clean the entire Dutch coastline over two weeks. Each team starts at a different end of the Dutch coast and we joined them for the finale at the central point near Ijmuiden. Over 200 people came together, which made a really friendly and positive atmosphere. Everyone was really keen to make a difference to our environment and it was brilliant to see how popular the event was and how many people care! In total this year they managed to pick up an astonishing 15,000kg of litter!

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Lots of enthusiastic beach cleaners!

The most common item was thin fishing line, this is used during trawling and breaks up along the sea floor. We encountered small and large strands, individual bits, and tangled masses of line and seaweed all along the beach. But this is only the bits that have washed up and there is a load more in the sea, unfortunately this will be the case until fishing practices change.

We also found a lot of yellow solid paraffin along the beach strand line. This had come from a ship, although the guys at the Boskalis Beach Clean were still unsure who, where, when or how. Paraffin is a fuel derived from petroleum; it has many different uses as fuel, lubricant and is even found in cosmetic products. It contains benzene that is a known carcinogen, and so can be extremely damaging to the environment when polluted in large quantities.

 

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Just 1  trailer out of the 15,000kg collected on the Dutch coast

We finished off the week visiting the CoCoast Dove Marine Lab.  Lucy gave a really interesting talk about cetaceans in the North Sea to the students. We then went to the cliff top for a land based survey and within a few minutes we had seen our first harbour porpoise! It was a very different experience surveying on solid ground, everyone really appreciated the talk and were really interested in ORCAs work on board the DFDS King Seaways.

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Land survey at Cullercoats

So I have definitely had a brilliant two weeks and time certainly does fly when you’re having fun. I am sure the next two weeks will follow suit and I’m looking forward to working with Julia, hopefully along with some flatter seas!

Charlie

Posted by: orcaweb | August 17, 2017

Charlie and the Croissant Theif

As the end of the Wildlife Officer season begins to creep closer we invite on-board our final placement for this year. Charlie joins us from Cambridge and is looking to gain valuable experience in marine conservation to specialise in a career for ocean protection following the completion of his biology degree. The first lesson that Charlie learnt was that the weather at sea doesn’t always working in our favour. Venturing out to the observation deck, heavy rain made it almost impossible to even keep our eyes open let alone spot and whales or dolphins. Flying close to the ship however, undeterred by the rain were gannets, fulmars and even a Manx shearwater.

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Gannet

If you have read the blogs from the last two weeks you will know that a great skua has been sighted at the Ijmuiden end of the journey repeatedly. We were lucky enough to see this impressive bird again this week. Whether it is the same individual prowling the area is uncertain because this species will form small flocks. Either way it is always one of my favourite birds to see and a nice addition to our ever growing bird list.

As the water depth closer to the Netherlands is extremely shallow (10-20 metres), we usually expect harbour porpoise and seals in this area. So you can imagine how excited we were to see on Wednesday in these shallow waters a large splash on the horizon, too large to be a fish or a porpoise this splash appeared three times before it’s owner disappeared. Being so far away we were unable to establish what it was as only the white water it created was visible. Proving again how mysterious and unpredictable the sea can truly be.

By Thursday, Charlie was very eager to get his eyes on some cetaceans and as we sailed back towards North Shields.  Both myself, Charlie and the passengers outside with us were delighted to see a Minke whale surface three times at a nice slow and relaxed pace. Minke whales generally reach a maximum length of 10 metres which is small in whale terms. This minke whale however looked even smaller than this so may have been a juvenile or sub adult on one of its first migrations towards the Arctic.

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Charlie looking our for whales and dolphins

Friday morning brought with it a great amount of laughs for all outside on the observation deck. A herring gull had perched itself on the ledge above us, I was curious as to what it was up to as we rarely see birds landing here. It was soon clear that we were now the ones being watched. After a few moments of watching the gull, watching us, it swooped down, landed on a ladies head and stole her chocolate croissant right out of her hands. If this wasn’t bad enough, it then took up a spot on the bow right in front of the robbed passenger and wolfed the croissant down whole as if showing off its victory.

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The greedy gull eyeing up the prize

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The theif enjoying its stolen breakfast

Later that evening whilst recalling the mornings hilarity we saw a sight that soon brought us all down to earth. A gannet flew above our heads, nice and close but as we watched in awe as the majestic bird soared gracefully, we noticed a fishing line trailing behind it. This poor bird then frantically shook its head, digging its beak into its breast feathers in an attempt shake off the fishing line. A reminder of the negative impacts of our interactions with the sea.

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A Gannet with fishing line trailing behind it

The weekend soon came around and we were treated to several harbour porpoise and a great diving performance from a huge flock of gannets. Always impressive to see and a regular sighting for us at this time of the year in the North Sea.

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Diving Gannets ahead of the ship. An increasingly common sight as we sail towards North Shields

Thanks again for stopping by and please do come back next week to see how Charlie has been getting on on-board our floating home the King Seaways.

Lucy

Posted by: orcaweb | August 7, 2017

ORCA OceanWatch on the North Sea!

What an unbelievable four weeks I’ve had at sea. I can’t quite believe how fast it has come around. As you may remember from my earlier blog, my name is Beccy and I have been training to be a wildlife officer with Lucy and Julia over the last month, by taking part in ORCA’s Wildlife Officer Placement scheme. It has been absolutely incredible. We have seen seals, harbour porpoises, white-beaked dolphins, incredible seabirds and not forgetting one very special minke whale.

We have had another wonderful week here on the North Sea. The weather hasn’t been marvellous but it has in no way dampened our spirits. Especially as it is a very exciting time of the year – ORCAOceanWatch. It is during this time of the year when our incredible network of Marine Mammal Surveyors go out on our ferry and cruise routes to survey UK and adjoining sea regions as much as possible.  Throughout the year, ORCA also train many bridge crews on how to survey and identify different cetacean species and we are very fortunate and excited that so many different companies are taking part this year. They were joined earlier in the week by four ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyors who very excitingly spotted a minke whale on Monday morning as well as lots of harbour porpoises.

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Stunning sunset view from bridge

Out on the observation deck, Julia and I have been accompanied by lots of eager passengers which has been fantastic. It is always great having some extra sets of eyes on the lookout especially during OceanWatch. On Monday evening, we spotted a small pod of dolphins whilst leaving North Shields which led to some very excited passengers. However this had been the most recent cetacean sighting of the week due to us experiencing some very adventurous and rocky seas. Thankfully by the weekend the ocean calmed and when approaching Ijmuiden on Saturday morning we spotted a very inquisitive grey seal who popped its head up quite close by which was a lovely start to our day.

Our luck of calm seas continued as we approached North Shields on Sunday morning. The sea was quite still and all of a sudden our attention was drawn to big splashes halfway out towards the horizon. It was a small pod of white beaked dolphins with one particularly acrobatic individual who was leaping in and out of the water for us all to see. And then when sailing passed the breakwater, we spotted a mother harbour porpoise and her calf right next to the ship! An excellent end to our OceanWatch! We have also been very fortunate in seeing a variety of amazing seabirds, including huge flocks of terns (as many as 100), flocks of cormorants and I even saw my first great skua on Saturday night.

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White beaked dolphin leaping out of the water

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Gannets soaring the North Sea winds in perfect synchrony

In other news I have been very excited about giving both the general presentation as well as our Wine & Whales presentation to passengers on board. The wine and whales presentation mostly discusses the threats to cetaceans and it is something I feel very passionately about and have really been enjoying giving it. We have had a full house every night and many different people of all ages have been coming to listen. What is particularly nice is that this presentation can be a very discursive open “chat” at times. Many guests feel equally as passionate and it is always wonderful to see so many people take a keen interest in the issues that all cetaceans are sadly faced with and we have had some excellent discussions about some of the small changes that we as individuals can introduce to make a difference.

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Myself (Beccy) using a model of a bottlenose dolphin skull to demonstrate odontocetes teeth during presentation

Our evening children’s activities have also been one of my top highlights. Every night we host a variety of fun educational games and activities in the ORCA Wildlife Centre, such as; harbour porpoise snakes and ladders, colouring and drawing and of course my personal favourite – ORCA fun fact treasure hunt.

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Excellent colouring in skills by one of our smaller passengers

As well as learning all about being a Wildlife Officer, as placements, we are also given a wonderful opportunity to expand or create ideas for ORCA. So over the last few weeks I have been working on my own personal project and it has been inspired by our wine and whales presentation.

I sometimes feel like there are so many issues in the world and it can be quite easy to feel quite helpless. ‘What can I do?’, and ‘I don’t know where to start’ are some of the thoughts that cross my mind and I am sure this is something that a lot of us think. So, my project is precisely that – where to start.  I have named it ‘Small Changes’ and I have created tables that could be included in ORCA membership packs as motivational fridge posters or wall stickers.

One table shows the most commonly found litter found in beach cleans and the other shows the biggest threats that face marine life. The following column then shows examples of small everyday changes that we can introduce that can help make a difference.

For example, it is estimated that in the UK we use over 38 million plastic bottles per day with only just over half being recycled. Around 16 million bottles are either burnt or end up in landfill, the environment or our oceans every day. Plastic bottles and bottle tops were one of the most common items found in British Beach Cleans in 2016. So in my ‘Small Changes’ table the next column is ‘reusuable bottle’.  It is simple solution but I think that’s the beauty in small changes – you don’t have to drastically change your lifestyle to make a difference in the world.

My ORCA adventure on board the DFDS is now almost over but I cannot be sad as it has been more than I could have ever hoped for. I genuinely can’t thank everyone at ORCA enough for this incredible experience. It has been one of the best things I have ever done and I know it is just the beginning of a wonderfuI future with ORCA. If you are reading this and considering applying for 2018, all I can say is – DO IT! You will not only get to see some amazing birds and cetaceans but you also learn so much and you will meet some fantastic people. Lucy and Julia, I would like to thank you both for making my time so special. We have had so much fun and you have both been so encouraging and supportive and have taught me so much. It has been an absolute pleasure and I wish you both all the best in the future.

And to ORCA readers, I would like to thank you for reading and I hope you all have a wonderful week. Until next time.

Beccy

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Beccy and Julia (left)                                                             Beccy and Lucy (right)

Posted by: orcaweb | July 31, 2017

Excited about ORCA OceanWatch

The unusual rough weather that my colleague Lucy and our current intern Beccy experienced during their past two weeks unfortunately persisted during this past week, with sea states showing numerous white caps and often spray as well.  We are quite used to a wavy, choppy, windy, sometimes stormy North Sea, but I have to admit that we were hoping for some better weather, since it is after all summer time!

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A choppy North Sea

Despite this not so lovely ‘summer weather’ both Beccy and myself were very excited to have the start of ORCA OceanWatch on Saturday! ORCA OceanWatch runs from 29th July to 6th August, and it an initiative that aims to involve seafarers in the collection of cetacean data. During this concentrated time period of nine days trained bridge crews, as well as ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyors and Wildlife Officers record all sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises and raise awareness of these wonderful animals. If you want to keep up to date with all our sightings during OceanWatch, please follow us on twitter at #ORCAOceanWatch!

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A lovely ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyor team on board

On Saturday, a dedicated volunteer team of four ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyors boarded the ship in North Shields to stay on for a mini-cruise and to record some of the amazing cetaceans in the North Sea. It is always really nice to have a survey team on board and to chat about any sightings. Although the weather wasn’t great, they were able to spot a handful of harbour porpoises and a minke whale when approaching Newcastle on Monday morning.

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Flock of black-headed gulls

One time Beccy and I were out on deck to conduct our daily surveys of whales, dolphins and porpoises we actually did have quite a nice flat sea. So our hopes of having some sightings were high and we were enthusiastic about these calm seas. After a while, Beccy got really excited and pointed towards several splashes on the starboard side of the ship. We both thought these must be a small group of porpoises or dolphins. But it turned out that these splashes were created by a few – seemingly very agile and lively – guillemots! Although we were slightly disappointed to not have seen any cetaceans, these sneaky guillemots made us laugh nonetheless.

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A calm sea surface for a change

Maybe you are thinking that we only talk about the bad weather and how we do have hardly any sightings… Just to reassure you (and maybe ourselves as well) we have already had plenty of sightings this season. To date we have seen 197 harbour porpoises, 47 white-beaked dolphins, three bottlenose dolphins, four minke whales, 25 grey or common seals and 30 unidentified cetaceans (that is mostly when we can’t identify the species for sure, as we’ve seen not enough of the animal to accurately identify it to species level). So hopefully we can add some more sightings to this count in the next week.

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Beautiful gannet

I really enjoyed having Beccy, our third Wildlife Officer Placement of this season, on board. She is now heading into her fourth week already and despite not having too many cetacean sightings, she is always enthusiastic about the ORCA Wildlife Officer programme on board this ship. Our presentations this last week, delivered both by Beccy and myself were all very well attended. It is always really great for us to have so many interested people attending our talks and activities and it is even more rewarding whenever we get positive feedback from passengers. We also had some really interesting conversations during and after our wine & whales evening lecture, which deals with the threats, conservation status of the cetacean species we see here in the North Sea and ways how we can help. It is amazing to hear that people think about and do make small changes to help the (marine) environment and to discuss different possibilities!

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Black-backed gull

It has been great to work with Beccy and I am looking forward to our next week on board. Fingers crossed for some nice and calm seas and a lot of sightings during ORCA OceanWatch! Thanks for stopping by and reading this blog. Next time you will hear from Beccy, when she will tell you all about her four week internship with us on the King Seaways!

Julia

 

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