27th – 29th August 2016
Welcome on board the DFDS Princess Seaways, the King’s sister ship! We have had several sailings this summer where Wildlife Officers have embarked to deliver fun, exciting activities, presentations and deck watches over the North Sea route to the Netherlands. As the last sailing of the season with Wildlife Officers on this ship we were hoping to end in style and surely enough it was a fantastic crossing!
Becky looking out for whales & dolphins
Rebecca and I (Ruth) were welcomed on board and got straight to work welcoming passengers as they boarded with a meet and greet, making people aware of our presence. After fun filled kids’ activities in the kids club, we ventured onto the port side of deck, hopeful. Unlike the King Seaways, there is no observation deck at the front of the ship, which means we have to choose a side of deck 9 in which to survey from.
Within the first half an hour, we were lucky to spot a lone harbour porpoise as it characteristically splashed on surfacing, a few hundred metres from the ship. Delighted to have seen something, we remained eager-eyed and were rewarded 20 minutes later when some more splashing up ahead was spotted – even closer to the ship! We believe these to have been dolphins which revealed very little of themselves. However, having an ORCA surveyor team on board, they confirmed later that evening that from their view in the Bridge, that they had seen 5 white-beaked dolphins on the opposite side to us, and that perhaps the ones we that we saw were also part of that group.
Sunday morning brought an eerie looking sea with dark skies and heavy rain welcoming us on deck. Shortly after arriving outside, layered up, streaks of fork lightening appeared in a fleeting bright flash. The loud cracks of thunder followed seconds behind, deafening everyone on deck – making me jump to say the very least! With these conditions, we were unoptimistic about any marine mammals showing themselves. However, we were pleasantly surprised to see a harbour porpoise despite the conditions. Farther, into the watch we saw something floating on the surface, guarded by two juvenile gulls. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a dead adult seal.
Despite unfavourable sea state conditions on the return journey from the Netherlands, we were ecstatic to witness an incredibly close harbour porpoise swim down the side of the ship, giving us a brilliant view of its flanks and its iconic triangular dorsal fin – despite an awful sea state 6!
Monday morning brought brighter better conditions and now being in more productive waters, we were feeling more positive. Little white water around meant that we could pick out movement in the water more easily and this was certainly the case with our first sighting. Becky called: ‘minke!’ and following where it might have gone, I saw it surface very discreetly, seeing the roll of its back and the arched dorsal fin, barely making a splash at all! It was certainly a sneaky minke! Watching eagerly, we also saw another minke whale a bit further from the ship, just briefly surfacing once again. These were both seen off the coast of near Whitby – what a fantastic start.
The next interesting sighting, was a long necked bird seen flying in our direction (faster than the ship), which looked like a diver species due to its pale belly contrasting its black top. Perhaps this was a red-throated diver or black throated diver.
Nearing the coast more, we sailed across what we think were some animals feeding. Some of these 9 individuals were definitely porpoises, 3 swimming closely together with some other individuals a bit more scattered. However, the rest of the group could have been either more porpoises or possibly dolphins, all swimming in a scrabble to get away from the ship as we potentially interrupted their breakfast time!
We saw numerous pairs of guillemots sitting on the water too, often paddling with their feet to move away from the ship, along with appearances from terns, fulmars, gannets and gulls, all seen on the approach into North Shields. One of these was a black headed-gull in its summer plumage (displaying its summer plumage with a black dot where you imagine their ears to be instead of a jet-black head)
Tall Ships Race Day Sail to Blyth
Joining the Princess Seaways for a Day sail up to Blyth for the tall ships race, we sauntered slowly up the Tyne once again, with only birds to be seen on the rock tips as the tide moved in, soon leaving the Tyne walls behind us.
A steady turn around the anchored ships offshore and a swivel to position ourselves parallel to the coast and we were soon seeing many jellyfish! Most if not all of these were lion’s mane jellyfish, displaying their red-orangey brown colours and long tentacles. Birds also gathered on our way out of the Tyne, such as herring gulls, black-headed gulls, guillemots and many kittiwakes.
Lions mane jellyfish
As we arrived outside of Blyth, we watched as the tall ships departed the harbour one by one and sailed past. In the meantime, we took the opportunity to educate children on the decks about the species of whale dolphin and porpoise in the North Sea as they helped us measure them out, with Amber and Reece taking a particular interest in this activity. However, with a schedule to keep to, the Princess started its return to North Shields and started its pivot around. Whilst doing this, we noticed a familiar tall ship leaving the harbour, making its way towards us (just a tad too late leaving to give us a closer view). However, Becky certainly knew it as a familiar sight – ‘Lord Nelson’ one of the Jubilee Sailing Trust’s (JST) tall-ships that she had sailed with earlier this year. Even myself (Ruth) having sailed on JST’s other ship ‘Tenacious’ at the end of last year looking out for whales and dolphins had a chance to visit Lord Nelson while it was docked in Gran Canaria. Saying goodbye to the tall ships and the sea, we ventured inside on the return journey to deliver a well-received presentation about the wildlife of the North Sea.
This was a perfect end to our mini cruise sailing on the Princess Seaways, and we just want to thank the Captain, Adele; Entertainments Manager, Lisa; DFDS, also Kerry; ORCA/DFDS King Seaways Wildlife Officer and Lucy Babey; ORCA Surveyor and Conservation Manager for helping to organise our voyages on board the Princess this summer.
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!
This was the last crossing of 2016 for Wildlife Officers on the Princess Seaways, which was hugely successful with many passengers interested – we hope to be on board again next summer! Thank you to everyone that joined us on deck and took part in our activities.
Ruth and Becky