Posted by: orcaweb | May 4, 2012

An Unexpected Visitor & More Dolphins

Hello again everyone,

I had an enjoyable but fairly quiet start to my second week onboard DFDS Seaways King Seaways with lots of bird life around the ship however conditions were less than ideal limiting sightings of life below the waves. Despite the ship being steady the weather was poor with low visibility as a result of dense cloud and the winds throwing spray up from the crests of waves. By Friday the winds had started to subside and wildlife watching became a much more serene experience. Thankfully some life was seen beneath the waves as the conditions improved with harbour porpoise and possible dolphin sightings over the weekend.

On Saturday we left Newcastle and entered a glass-like North Sea with a bit of gentle swell – near perfect conditions. An hour into wildlife watching when we were about 20km north east of Whitby, Yorkshire, two harbour porpoise appeared on the port side of the ship. These two animals appeared to the ambling though the water heading in a northerly direction – an excellent sight. The following morning we were joined on deck by a twite, a small sparrow-like bird, which tend to be found on the coasts of Scotland and Scandinavia suggesting that the animal had been travelling on the ship since we left the UK. As we approached the Dutch port of Ijmuiden with the marine wind turbines gently turning in the light wind and the twite fluttering around us we caught a quick glimpse of a cetacean, most probably a dolphin although the creature barely breached out of the water.

Here’s a quick guide to some of the other bird life I’ve seen in the North Sea this week. The most commonly seen wildlife this week has been herring gulls and greater black-backed gulls which have often joint us at sea. Kittiwakes, small gull-like birds, also frequent the cruise-ferry. One of the more impressive birds that we regularly see is the northern gannet. These creatures are the largest bird in Europe and have a wing-span of nearly 2m. They are quite easy to identify due to their size and bright white body with black wing-tips and a colourful yellow head. Northern gannets are fish eaters and dive into the sea from about 40m up to enable them to deeply penetrate the water. At sea we’re also frequently joined by northern fulmars which sweep along the way hugging the ocean surface. These grey-backed animals are excellent gliders and often use the updrafts created by ship to save their energy. Tynemouth harbour also offers an excellent opportunity for bird life as great cormorants, eider ducks and northern fulmars tend to gather near the fish quay. The Farne Islands, just north of Tyneside, support a large Atlantic puffin colony and many of these vibrant birds bob gently in the sea near the Northumberland and Yorkshire coasts. Other birds that I have seen include black-headed gulls, brent geese, razorbills and guillemots.

It’s been a good first fortnight onboard with sightings of 9 white-beaked dolphins, 24 harbour porpoise, 2 unidentified cetaceans as well as the birdlife. Nathan will take over for a week and a bit keeping you up to date with events in the North Sea.

Keeping checking our blogs for more information though the season. Also we have a Marine Mammal Survey Training course soon at Newcastle on Saturday the 19th of May. This course is for anybody with an interest in marine life who would like to partake in whale and dolphin surveys with ORCA. Check Alison’s post (below) to explore her first survey earlier this month. If you are interested please check the website at http://www.orcweb.org.uk and follow the links.

Mike

ORCA Wildlife Officer
DFDS Seaways King Seaways

23rd April 2012

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