Posted by: orcaweb | April 17, 2012

Team with a porpoise!

Hello! This is Alison, ORCA’s Community Engagement Officer, and I am hijacking the wildlife officer blog to bring you news from the first survey of the year on board the DFDS ‘King Seaways’ from Newcastle to Amsterdam.

The Team (left to right): Alison Lomax, Jayne Dobner, Elfyn Pugh (team leader) and Brian Clasper.

This was my first time surveying with ORCA and my first (ever) ferry based whale and dolphin survey experience. I joined the team at check in at the international ferry terminal at North Shields and instantly (although I managed to wait until I was introduced – just!) relayed the news that Mike, ORCA Wildlife Officer, had spotted white-beaked dolphins on this route for the last two days in a row… I was twitching with anticipation.

Watching the waves: Alison Lomax, ORCA Community Engagement Officer

As the ship left the River Tyne we made our way up to the bridge to begin the first part of our survey.  We were welcomed by DFDS Seaways Captain Lars Skjold-Hansen and Chief Officer Andreas Khristensen. As a newcomer to ferry based surveying access to the bridge was almost as exciting as the prospect of the animal encounters. The view from the bridge is impressive to say the least and the relative quiet compared to the passenger areas of the ship only enhances the privileged feeling of being allowed into this restricted area of the ship.

The Team meet DFDS ship’s Captain and Chief Officer.

Left to right: Elfyn Pugh, Andreas Khristensen (Chief Officer), Jayne Dobner, Lars Skjold-Hansen (Captain) and Alison Lomax.

We surveyed in less than ideal weather conditions with a sea state ranging from 4-5 until the light began to fade and unsurprisingly we didn’t spot any marine mammals. Andreas (Chief Officer) assured us that the morning would bring calmer weather and he was spot on… we woke to bright skies, and more importantly calm seas. Once on the bridge we began our second survey and within 20 minutes we spotted our first animal, a tiny harbour porpoise darting out from the bow of the ship. What then followed was what I can only describe as a 2 hour assault of sightings, with porpoise after porpoise popping up, whizzing past and scooting off into the distance, 16 in total. It was an utterly brilliant and unexpected start to the day.

Sunset on the bridge of the King Seaways

At the Dutch end we enjoyed a sunny day out and about in Amsterdam, wondering through the markets, gift shops and enjoying a spot of canal side ‘al fresco’ dining. Unfortunately my excessive love for cheese and the spectacle of a three story cheese shop (!) diverted my attention so much that Brian and I lost our other team mates for the last two hours of the visit!

The impressive cheese shop which caused a temporary break-up of the team!

Once re-grouped and back on board we departed Ijmuiden and again made our way to the bridge to begin our third survey. The highlight came an hour and a half in when two dolphins, possibly white-beaked, headed for the ship in typical rowdy dolphin fashion before disappearing under the boat. Frustratingly I am recounting this part of the trip second hand; I missed this encounter while I was off playing paparazzi with Mike Williams ORCA’s on-board wildlife officer to get some publicity photos.


ORCA surveyors taking watch on the bridge of the King Seaways (Brian Clasper and Jayne Dobner)

The final survey of the trip began the following morning… choppy seas, rain and swell made for tricky survey conditions. However a show-off fulmar with impressive aerial acrobatics skills and a sky full of rainbows kept us occupied until we got back to Newcastle. Then, just before we entered the entrance to the breakwater at the River Tyne Brian spotted a final harbour porpoise sneakily darting across our bow. A fitting end to this porpoise dominated North Sea crossing.

This trip was a fantastic initiation to ferry based whale and dolphin surveys and a great weekend away on board a lively and friendly vessel with a lovely team of surveyors.  I hope to be going again very soon!

You can join ORCA on future marine mammal trips as a volunteer surveyor. ORCA will be training the next group of volunteer surveyors on 19 May at the Great North Museum, Newcastle. For more information and to book a place visit, call Sophie Isaacs on 023 9283 2565 or email


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