Newcastle to Stavanger (1st – 4th August 2008)
On this trip we spotted quite a few of the skuas on our adventure across the North Sea, which is always interesting as these are truly the pirate birds. We were also spotting quite a few harbour porpoises and a minke whale quite close to the Newcastle harbour, and as we were to discover, those cetacean sightings never fail to bring a smile to everybody’s faces!
During our crossings of the North Sea we often see two species of skua; the Arctic skua on the Newcastle side of the trip, and the great skua on the Norwegian side. The skua species are all kleptoparasitic birds. This means that in addition to catching some food themselves, most of the fish they feed on, they steal from other birds. The “victims” are often guillemots, puffins, gulls, fulmars and even the larger gannets. The skuas harass these and other birds in mid-air until they drop the fish they have caught and then catch and eat it while still in the air! They may even harass the birds until they regurgitate their food. They are really a pirate bird, and we see them do some impressive acrobatic moves while chasing after other birds.
After departing Bergen on the way back we spotted quite a few porpoises. There are areas of open water north of both Haugesund and Stavanger where we have quite a few sightings. The harbour porpoise is the smallest cetacean (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) in these waters and measures between 1.4 and 1.9 m, which is about our size. They also have one of the shortest life spans of any cetacean, and may live to only 12 years The porpoises may be quite shy and they will not announce their presence by jumping out of the water or come in to bow-ride like most dolphins do. So they can be quite difficult to spot, but we do go through quite sheltered waters along the Norwegian coast and this makes it easier to spot them as the calmer the sea is the easier it is to see their dorsal fins when they surface.
Another interesting feature that you may want to have a look out for on this trip, although not wildlife, is the glacier Folgefonna. Between one and two hours before we arrive in Bergen you can see this beautiful glacier on the starboard side of the ship!