The current high pressure system is providing the mirror smooth sea states that allows for excellent whale and dolphin watching from The King of Scandinavia’s Observation deck. As the summer weather continues the Sea temperature is slowly rising allowing the plankton to bloom and bringing food for sea mammals into our coastal areas.
Whales, dolphins and porpoises make short and long trips to feed in productive areas during this time and that is why the sightings of these animals can increase this time of year. Yesterday evening at 6pm we left North Tyne side sailing up the Tyne river and out of the mouth the sea state was about a Beaufort force 2-3 with SE winds of 13-18 knots. We travelled along the coast of Durham and turned out to sea. It was 9pm when the winds completely died and all you felt was the breeze from the ships speed.
The 1st porpoises were seen near the surface in groups of 2-3 swimming beside the ship. At 8.30pm I was in the ORCA Wildlife Centre on deck 9 when I saw 2 porpoises calmly surfacing right next to the starboard side of the ship through the window. For the 1st time in 10 years of sea watching I saw the tiny blow or spout (approx 20cm high!) of our smallest dolphin species (1.8m) the harbour porpoise. And I knew then we would have some good sightings. I had told the passengers to go to the bow observation deck 8-9 or to deck 12 Mermaid bar which both give incredible views. At 8.30pm, approx 10 miles of the coast of Durham, several Harbour porpoise sightings were reported to me, The ORCA Wildlife Education Officer, working in the Wildlife Centre on board The King of Scandinavia.
Passengers in the indoor Observation lounge then saw 2 white beaked dolphins’ bow riding the ship. The white beaked dolphin is a cool-water species that will often approach boats and bow ride, tail slap and breach. These dolphins that few people have heard of are stout black dolphins with a white saddle on their backs. A summer resident population of around 30 are currently being studied by research teams from Newcastle led by Martin from Northern experience tours to find out if they are residents. It was 30 minutes later a solitary bottlenose dolphin was seen breaching clear of the water in front of the ship. Several passengers came in to report the harbour porpoise sightings so I closed the Wildlife Centre and made my way to the top of the ship. Out at sea long lines of plankton shone in silvery slicks on the waters surface. Hundreds of sea birds, Gannets, Gulls, Terns and Auks were feeding on them some diving from 20ms. Fish were bursting through making black speckle patterns as they reached the sea surface. I watched these areas and soon saw pods of porpoises feeding on the fish. It was 10.10 pm when something a whole lot bigger rolled over behind the ship. The time it took for the animal’s dorsal fin to appear and its shape told me it was a whale. A 10m Minke whale was swimming in the opposite direction to the ship for all the passengers on deck to see! We were now 30 miles out to sea in depths of only 60ms I went to the flying bridge to see the 2nd Officer on duty. He had seen the whale, dolphins and porpoises. As I was speaking to him a Harbour seal popped up in front of the bow of the ship and then swam along side before disappearing into the distance out to join the feast at sea.
I have never seen such a diversity and abundance of marine life out on the ocean in one night- it was like the “Blue Planet” out there. Many people write off the North Sea as a place only for industry. The North Sea is home to millions of birds that nest and feed there, it has seal colonies and resident whales and dolphins. The North Sea is largely a shallow sea and makes a prefect home for harbour porpoises. All of the species are here ands many are of Conservation Concern.
The year 2010 is the World Celebration of Biodiversity. The charity ORCA organisation Cetacean promotes the conservation of whales, dolphins and porpoises as both flagship and keystone species in the marine environment. Our volunteers carry out dedicated surveys on ships in European waters to provide data to help protect cetaceans. ORCAs Education programme with Officers on board DFDS Seaways King of Scandinavia and other European Ferries are working to highlight fantastic opportunities to watch these animals in their natural environment. For more information www.orcaweb.org.uk/
Senior Wildlife Education Officer