Posted by: orcaweb | September 7, 2009

Porpoises and a whale blow! 4-5th Sept 2009

The strong winds continued and turned westerly so ORCA passengers Jane, Toby Erin and Fin joined us for a rolling crossing from Harwich over to Esbjerg.  I was very pleased to have Cait from ORCA joining me as a fellow Wildlife Officer on this trip.  Cait is passionate about seeing cetaceans and carries out lots of beach cleans in her home town.  We need to all try and cut down on all the marine litter we produce such as plastic bags, and other disposable items like cotton buds, cigarette butts, tooth brushes etc etc etc.  Seabirds are often found dead with their stomachs full of plastic items and little else!

Cait and I were joined by Toby on deck in the early morning to watch the sea birds;  including artic terns, young fulmars and some adult gannets that were loosely circling ahead- when Cait spotted a blow.  Unfortunately we did not see what made the blow but the most likely animal is a Minke whale. 

Later on the bridge the next morning we were watching the young gannets, (always worth doing as an excellent indicator of what lies beneath!) – when one hoovered and investigated something moving away from the ships wake.  At a closer look we saw a dark small triangle shaped fin- of a porpoise!  I have seen harbour porpoise many times as I am leaving or arriving into ports, but never out in the ocean.  The North sea being an unusually shallow 50-60 metres max, provides a similar habitat to that found in coastal seas.  Gannets do seem to be interested in what other species are doing such as the porpoise-who hunt for dimersal fish; but its not until the larger dolphin pods are bringing the bait balls to the surface -that they really start gathering, circling above and frantically diving.

Going into the Port of Esbjerg a 100s of Common scoters flew by in groups of 6-50  and a flock of Brent Geese flew high overhead.

Our trip to fano was memorable for the storm waters flooding the pavements and the fields.  It was here that we had are most unusual sighting of Moon jellyfish in a field.  They had been pushed over the sea wall by the combination of strong westerlys, spring tides and the storm.  Moon jellies are common all along the coasts of Europe (although not in fields!).  They are round with a purple rim and 4 reproductive organs in the middle- in the water they absorb UV light and make a nice illumination.

On the return journey we counted 75 seals on the sandbank- with such a different range of sizes seen between the Greys and Commons; as well as the males, females juvenilles and pups.  Species that have harems have a big size dimorpism; as the males have to compete for females to breed with, and to hold their territories.  We refer to this as “beach master activity” and it is seen during the breeding season at Grey seal haul outs.

Another harbour porpoise was spotted out to sea during the bridge watch making this a very successful trip for cetaceans even in sea state 4-5! 

The sea birding highlights of this trip were  Arctic and Sandwich Terns, Arctic skuas, an auk spp. and possible Leches storm-petrel-a rare bird in the North Sea.
The waders seen on Fano include bar tailed godwit, greenshank, redshank, ringed plover, turnstone, oyster catchers, curlews, sandpiper curlew, whimbrels.  With  20 swallow and a few swifts still flying along the shoreline of Fano you have to admit we had some good sightings!


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